Monday, February 26, 2007

Human rights in Australia: Hicks' US military trial 'a war crime'

This blog has maintained for quite some time that the denial of habeas corpus to Hicks would ultimately be the subject of court action. I have always thought that the whole area of 'rendition', 'coercion' and 'incarceration' without due process would come back to haunt key perpetrators through legal actions.

In the case of Hicks he has also been denied protection by the Howard Government from an illegal US military commission process.

The Age reports "Former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson says the prime minister, foreign minister and attorney-general could be charged with war crimes for insisting David Hicks face trial before a US military commission.

Mr Nicholson said the commission was not a properly constituted court and it could not deliver a fair trial to the terrorist suspect.

He said war crimes legislation clearly made that an offence on the basis that kangaroo courts should not be established to try a regime's enemies.

"We are saying it is strongly arguable that they have broken the law because to counsel or procure a person who is entitled to protection of the Geneva convention as Hicks is, a trial of such a person before an illegal tribunal is clearly an offence against the international criminal court statute," he told ABC radio.

"It is also an offence in Australian law."

Mr Nicholson said that constituted a war crime.

"It is so defined under the relevant legislation," he said.

Adelaide-born Hicks, 31, has been detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for five years, after he was picked up in Afghanistan in December 2001.

The US is currently considering the charges he would face at trial.

Mr Nicholson and five other top lawyers co-signed a legal opinion sent to Mr Ruddock last year, arguing that government ministers could face charges under war crimes legislation.

That view was repeated in a letter from senior lawyer Robert Richter QC sent to The Age newspaper earlier this month.

Mr Nicholson acknowledged it was unlikely Mr Ruddock would be charged with war crimes by this government, although it would be potentially open to a future Labor government.

"It is always possible. But my experience is that one government doesn't usually try and single out the misdeeds of another," he said.

"If this government at this stage was to indicate that it thought the trial process was unsatisfactory and Hicks should be repatriated, I have no doubt that he would be."

I think it would be appropriate to have the Ministers mainly responsible for this episode charged with war crimes.

Human rights in Australia: Urgent Action - Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers

The following message is being circulated by refugee advocates.

You may be aware that a few days ago, the Australian Navy intercepted a boatload of 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers off the coast of Australia, just near Christmas Island.

In a massive contravention of customary international law, human rights law, humanitarian law and Australia's self-assumed treaty obligations, the Howard government has made secret arrangements with Indonesia to send the asylum seekers immediately back to Indonesia, from whence they will be sent back to Sri Lanka. (Read more:

Howard has categorically refused to let the men so much as lodge their applications for asylum in Australia, which is their rights under the law of Australia AND international law. Remember, ***arriving in Australia unauthorised, by boat, even with no papers, is NOT illegal!

Sending people back to a place where they may suffer persecution is called 'refoulement', and it is strictly and unambiguously prohibited under international law as a fundamental principle aimed at protecting the rights and the lives of the world's most vulnerable people.

Let's also remember that the Government has just completed work on an 800-bed $360 million detention facility on Christmas Island. It is ready and waiting to receive these asylum seekers, and although i abhor the existence of such a facility, it is vastly preferable that it should be put to use while these men's claims are processed, rather than sending them back to a situation of grave danger.

It is a serious concern that our Government has decided that this kind of behaviour is OK, especially in light of the fact that it has been proven that at least 9 men and 3 children have been killed upon return from Australia to their homelands in recent years.


Here are a few points you may like to make:

* "Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution" Article 14, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
* Article 33 of the 1951 Refugees Convention *ABSOLUTELY PROHIBITS* sending people back to a country or territory where they may face danger. This is exactly what we're about to do!
* These 83 people are the first asylum seekers to arrive by boat in Australia in over a year. Some areas in Europe get 1500 asylum seekers A DAY!
* Some of the poorest countries in the world are the most generous hosts of asylum seekers. Ethiopia, Eritrea etc... Iran and Pakistan both hold over 2 million refugees each. Australia takes 0.05% of the world's refugee burden.
* Historically, asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia are found to be genuine refugees in 92% of cases. Think about it like this:
people don't uproot their lives, leave their families and get in a leaky boat for 10 days to travel to a strange country unless they are SERIOUS about the dangers that face them at home.

The Government:
PM John Howard - you'll have to contact him using this form: - Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.

AND your local member of the Liberal Party:
using this form...

And Labor: - (Labor) Leader. Let him know that you do not support Howard's approach, and you'd be interested to see what his approach would be. Encourage him to OPPOSE this stunt and provide a strong, principled alternative. - (Labor) co-leader of Labor party. - (Labor) Shadow Immigration Spokesman.
Would be immigration minister if Labor wins the election. He is generally very open to dialogue and reasonableness but we have yet to see what happens when the rubber hits the road! Encourage him, as well, to take a strong, vocal stand against this awful behaviour.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Human Rights in Australia: Deal to send boat people packing

The SMH is reporting "AUSTRALIA is striking a deal with Indonesia for an even more radical version of John Howard's Pacific Solution - sending 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers home via Indonesia in possible breach of international refugee conventions.

The asylum seekers, who were intercepted by the navy near Christmas Island on Wednesday, are set to be taken to Indonesia and then sent back to Sri Lanka after secret talks between the three countries in Jakarta yesterday. This means they would be sent home via Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia would be free of any responsibility towards them, and the asylum seekers would almost certainly be robbed of any chance to lodge an asylum claim under international law.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to Indonesia, Janaka Perera, confirmed last night that Australian and Indonesian officials had told him the 83 men would be returned to Jakarta, then sent home. He expected the men to arrive in Sri Lanka within days.

"Sri Lanka's position is that they have travelled illegally to another country and they should be returned to Sri Lanka."

Both Australia and Indonesia had said they would assist with the repatriation, he said."

No surprises then. Acts of unmitigated bastardry will continue unabated whilst this government is in power. Given the previous deals cut with Indonesia on warehousing asylum seekers on Lombok, in the face of international law and convention, we can only expect worse to come.

Iraq intell.....

Tandberg in The Age

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cheney in Oz - with friends like these...

I heard it on the news today, oh boy
Dick Cheney tried the same old ploy

Evil in a turban has come to stay
But George and Dick can make it go away

Johnnie is a mate through and through
One to turn to when you're in the pooh

He is strong and honest, just like me
We'll go on together eternally

If someone should try to blow the wrong whistle
We will shut the f***er up with a missile!

Our empire is for the landed and free
Come and get the good oil from me

Well that's my lot for the time being
But I'll see you at the second coming....

Human Rights in China: Cultural genocide

The ongoing tragedy of Tibet has fallen off the international radar of late, but as the Olympic Games draw closer it is necessary to highlight China's crimes in Tibet.

The following article on the "21st Century Vision" provides a useful overview:

" Continuing our occasional series on conflicts the world has forgotten we turn to Tibet. Maybe this is stretching things a little, as the gentle and statesmanlike Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet Campaign manage to keep the public at least minimally informed, but still it does not exactly rate highly on the political agenda. 'Conflict' is also a bit of a misnomer since, as with our earlier pieces on Western Sahara and West Papua, the conflict is entirely one-sided. The deeply-religious Buddhist Tibetans don't even try to fight back, except for a desperate uprising in 1959 and since then with civil disobedience, which they practice with exemplary courage.

The Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950, without the shadow of an excuse beyond the need (?) to bring communism to as much of the world as they could. Populated largely with monks and herdsmen Tibet was a pushover. Mao promised the Tibetans that the Chinese would leave once 'liberation' was completed ('Liberation' from what was never explained - there were no capitalists in Tibet). The promise of course was not kept, leading to that abortive uprising in 1959, in which an estimated 430,000 Tibetans were killed (the Chinese said 87,000). 100,000 more, including the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and (until 1950) temporal leader of Tibet, fled into exile in India. A further 340,000 died in the next few years as the economy, destabilised by the Chinese, collapsed and famines (previously unknown) hit the country.

The cultural revolution, also known euphemistically as the 'Great Leap Forward', did not spare Tibet. Thousands of monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousands of Tibetans ended up in Labour camps. The assault on Tibetan culture had begun, and continues unabated to this day, even though the political climate in China now is very different to what it was under Mao. Although destruction of monasteries has ceased - there are not very many left - persecution of monks and a general suppression of the Buddhist religion continues, particularly as monks and nuns tend to be the ones who most often perform acts of defiance. Their reward is usually a long prison sentence and brutal 're-education' amounting to endemic torture.

In 1995 the Panchen Lama, the second most holy man in the Tibetan Buddhist establishment, died. The child named by monks as his re-incarnation, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, disappeared together with his whole family and has never been seen again. The Chinese authorities declared another boy to be the Panchen Lama, and have kept him isolated ever since so he could be suitably brainwashed.

There has been a steady, officially encouraged influx of Han Chinese into the country, to the point where native Tibetans are now outnumbered in their own land. Chinese has replaced Tibetan as the official language.

Through all this the Tibetan people cling stubbornly to their traditions and beliefs. They refuse to let their culture die, although it gets harder all the time. The repression does not let up. The total death toll since 1950 is now estimated at 1.2 million. Just last November, a group of 40 or so Tibetans attempting to flee through the Nangpa La Pass to Nepal were fired on in full sight of climbers at the Everest Base Camp. At least two were killed, and the rest rounded up and (according to the testimony of one who subsequently made a successful escape) beaten and tortured over several days. Video footage of the shooting has circled the world to the embarrassment of the Chinese, so at least the deaths were not completely in vain."

For information on Free Tibet activities in Australia click here.

Human rights in Australia - more asylum seekers to be caught up in Pacific Solution mincer

Media is reporting that "Prime Minister John Howard says a group of 85 asylum seekers intercepted near Christmas Island, off Western Australia, will not be allowed on the mainland.

The men were picked up by the navy supply ship HMAS Success and are believed to be from Sri Lanka.

Mr Howard has told Southern Cross Radio that the Federal Government is considering sending the men to Nauru.

"Clearly sending them to Nauru is an option, but we are assessing all of the options," he said.

"We need some more information, but they will not be allowed onto the Australian mainland - that is certain."

But the coordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Mann, says the men will be denied access to independent legal advice if they are sent to Nauru or Christmas Island.

"The first real option is to ensure that these people are brought to a situation of safety and security in Australia where they're able to explain there predicament," he said.

"If they are seeking protection, as appears to be the case, that they be able to put their case for asylum in Australia and to have that case properly heard."

The spin merchants on the govt side are out there today demonizing these people and preparing the ground for another ugly iteration of the PS. The only solution to this abuse carried out in our name is 'regime change' and heavy lobbying of Labor to humanize asylum seeker policy.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cut and walk - when is reduction not a staged withdrawal? When it gets spun by spin meisters!

The media waves are full of the UK decision to 'withdraw' troops from Iraq. On ABC radio Brendan Nelson was out there slithering around to have us believe that the Brits are leaving Basra because everything there is now hunky dory. Nelson has gone on today to state there is no such thing as 'victory' in Iraq. So, Dubbya's victory fantasy (how can we ever forget his staged music hall number on the aircraft carrier?) is just that, a fantasy. Well golly gosh! Howard, Nelson & Downer are making it up as they go - the song and dance routines alone will be worth the price of admission.

Ten minutes after Nelson's foray on ABC an American expert on Iraq matters indicated his line was bull dust spin that the likes of Vice-Pres Cheney have turned into an art form. This analyst believes Basra remains a seething mess of violence and insecurity under the surface, but our Government is never much interested in what is under the rug. I suspect the truth is that the foreign troop presence has acted like a lightening rod for violence, whether instigated by Sunni, Shiite or criminal groups.

Dr Rosemary Hollis, Director of Research at Chatham House told the ABC's World Today that the UK withdrawal is in response to growing unease by commanders in the field that the troop presence was doing more harm than good, and growing domestic anger at the ongoing commitment to Iraq. The quagmire will continue to drag down the coalition partners, and their national security will be put at further risk by an irresponsible leadership.

The spin meisters are painting the troop pull out as a positive signal of success in Iraq. Black is white, up is down, and keep reading our lips. It has got to the stage when the only way you can tell whether these dudes are lying is whether their lips are moving. Official propaganda machines have a key role in wartime to keep up spirits on the home front, and to demoralize the enemy. However, being lied to constantly by political leaders and compromised media players has a toxic affect on the health of a country's body politic and leads to distrust of the political process and of a leadership that has betrayed its duty of trusteeship.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

PM doesn't like being thought of as a national security risk - well, he should get used to it!

Howard has not taken kindly to Rudd's description of him as a security risk, but this blog has been making that case since its inception.

On Howard's watch Australia has entered the twilight zone of Bush's unilateralism, where neocon airheads invented a new version of reality that involves them ruling the roost on all global issues: "We will decide events and how they are reported"; "If you're not with us you're against us"; "this is a crusade of good against evil"; "we are fighting a war on terror....".

We sent trainers to Vietnam initially, which led to our increasing commitment of combat troops and our worst foreign policy debacle. Rudd is right to draw the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. The extraordinary hubris behind the US and allies setting themselves up as world 'police' was exposed back then and it is happening again. Howard is still claiming Australia's role in Vietnam as good policy! Doubtless he will go to his grave chanting a similar mantra on Iraq, but the rest of us will ultimately get the point that we were poorly led by him and his amigos.

On Insight last night I think I saw a dawning realisation on the face of Ruddock that his legacy is not going to be all that flash. The systematic demonisation of Hicks by the Howard government is coming home to roost.

Denial of habeas corpus to Hicks has become a symbol of the Howard Government's approach to human rights in a raft of policy areas. Ruddock was laughed at last night as he slithered around the crux of the matter - Why has it taken over 5 years for our Government to stand up for the rights of an Aussie citizen, and why as he been adjudged a bad person by Howard, Downer et al on the basis of a highly suspect evidentiary process.

Fellow citizens, its time, its time, its time.....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Global backlash against America

The Age reports "global hostility towards the United States' role in world affairs has increased sharply in the past 12 months, driven largely by the wars in Iraq and Lebanon and by America's treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, according to an international poll commissioned by the BBC and The Age."

This blog has been anticipating the neocon approach to global affairs would be totally discredited and its apologists exposed for the bullying opportunists they really are. The international community is blowing the whistle on this nasty US behemoth and its vassal regimes. Sadly, they have been enabled to do a lot of damage to world peace and harmony.

Voters in Australia and the US have elected governments that have played to irrational fears they themselves have engendered and encouraged. Certain commercial media outlets (you know who you are!) have assisted political propaganda machines by going on a feeding frenzy of fear mongering, distortion of world events and demonisation of those that challenge the neoconservative fantasy.

The recent BBC series aired on SBS entitled "The Power of Nightmares - The Rise of the Politics of Fear" applied the blowtorch to the virulent fundamentalisms that have emerged on both sides of the North-South divide - the US neocons and Islamist extremism.

If you missed this confronting series you can access the videos by clicking here.

Following is the poll published in The Age:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Australia's asylum seeker policy subject of SMH editorial

It is pleasing to see an SMH editorial condemn the appalling failure of the Howard Government's Pacific Solution (PS).

When I started this blog I was painfully aware of how little attention this brutish policy was receiving from mainstream media outlets.

Several Age journalists were an exception and have been diligent in charting the course of the PS iterations. This was encouraging for an erstwhile APS 'insider' such as myself, who had become increasingly distressed over what I considered to be the misuse of public sector resources underpinning the PS.

Refugee advocates have continued to beat on the doors of the country's conscience to awaken decent, fair-minded Australians to the cruelty being perpetrated in their name.

In today's editorial, entitled "Meanness has rarely been so open-handed", the SMH exposes the asylum seeker policies to a bit more public glare:

"THERE are a number of reasons to object to the way Australia deals with asylum seekers. First, of course, there is the lack of humanity. The detention of individuals for years in centres far from the Australian mainland is straightforward cruelty. Just how cruel is shown by the number of times long-term detainees attempt suicide. Cynics may accuse these forlorn figures of attention-seeking - and indeed the charge may well be true. Attention-seeking is understandable in their situation. The charge does not undermine their case, or void their right to justice. Asylum seekers should not be detained for long periods to await the outcome of their case. The pathetic case of Mohammad Faisal - imprisoned for five years on Nauru after being declared a security threat by ASIO, then released this month after ASIO thought better of its first finding - is only one of many examples where Australia has tried to act tough and has ended up just looking mean.

Even for those who see mandatory detention as somehow justified in the cause of border protection, there is a second, more pragmatic objection to the way Australia goes about things: cost. The cost of building the Christmas Island detention centre has risen 43 per cent in four years, to $396 million, Finance Department officials told a Senate estimates committee. That is a lot to pay for a holding pen, even if it eventually does hold 400 people. (Four people are currently in detention there.) It has been costing Australia $1 million a month to keep another man, Mohammed Sagar, in custody on Nauru; he has now been granted asylum in Scandinavia. The "Pacific solution" has been less utilised in recent years, and rightly so. The last budget provided for one of two centres on Nauru to close. The policy has been a low point in Australia's otherwise largely creditable immigration history, and should be phased out completely. Its cost to Australia in money and reputation has been too high."

There are other elements of the PS process that require closer scrutiny, including financial arrangements with Nauru politicians and officials during the first phase of implementation. I encourage journalists to continue exposing these policies to the full light of day.

Australian aid: creative aid accounting flourishes under Coalition

One of the reasons I found the latter years of my career in AusAID damaging for my health was a growing awareness that aid funds were being redeployed from "programs to reduce poverty, hunger, illiteracy and ill-heath towards counter-terrorism and security co-operation, deflecting asylum seekers and fighting wars".

I witnessed substantial amounts of money being allocated to programs designed to shore up recipient government support for the Pacific Solution. Bullying and coercion of South Pacific recipients to accept an Australian Government template for security and governance was on the rise, along with appeasement of authoritarian regimes with a poor record of protecting human rights in order to secure trade and political advantages. Sadly, use of aid to achieve this latter outcome has been all to common in the annals of Australian official aid.

I tried to remain involved in the Pacific Solution area of AusAID operations as long as possible to retain a first-hand view of the process, but my lack of enthusiasm for the task and my growing inability to hide my deep unease undid me in the end.

Recent Senate estimates hearings have further revealed the lucrative fees paid 'consultants' and 'experts' representing our government in Iraq with links to the AWB. The paper trails associated with procurement of services and related financial delegations will reflect 'due process' was followed, but I venture political considerations came into play on several occasions, and 'waivers' or 'exceptions' to procurement and selection procedures have been applied.

In relation to the Long and Flugge payments retiring Labor Senator Robert Ray said "Are there any more jobs going like that in AusAid? I'm finished as a senator I thought I might move on,".

I suggest the Senate take a close look at many such contracts over the last ten years, especially in the areas of governance and security, and not just in Iraq.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why did Howard pick on Obama?

A piece in today's SMH suggests Howard may have got the dog whistle out again in his blatant attack on Obama, a black man with a Muslim sounding name. Michael Gawenda writes:

"...There's another thing Howard should have known: it was almost inevitable that the question of whether he is a racist would be raised, certainly by the left in America. And that the question would be answered in the affirmative.

For the American left - and not just the far left - Howard has form on race. It's the sort of record that Australians would be familiar with: his Government's treatment of asylum seekers, his attacks on political correctness, his position on Asian immigration in the '80s.

This record was raised by John Nichols in The Nation magazine to show that Howard's attack on Obama was racially motivated and to argue that Howard had a penchant for "exploiting and exacerbating racial divisions for political purposes".

Oh dear, not agan! Gawenda goes on to assert Howard is not a racist. they say in the classics (and in Parliament quite a bit), the jury is well and truly still out on that one! If he is not a racist, he certainly does'nt baulk at whipping up racial and ethnic tension for political gain on a regular basis. What is the difference?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Howard losing the plot on Iraq

Not only has Howard launched a party-political attack on the Democratic Party against the long term interests of Australia, but now all Australians who disagree with him on troop withdrawal from Iraq are being painted with the same pro-terrorist brush.

It is desperate stuff to see Howard et al get this down and dirty but they have been apoplectic of late in their advocacy of US and Australian troops to stay in Iraq. Now it seems opponents are all doing the terrorist's bidding.

It is time this ranting bunch of poorly socialized bullies was sent packing. I think the Donald Duck "brutopia" was an apt description of the Howard project. He and his mates are looking more and more like a "Mickey Mouse" government, resembling cartoon caricatures of politicians.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Year of the Pig - A year of hope?

As I shepherd my son toward the commencement of his new life as a uni student I wonder whether there are signs of hope this year of the pig.

I get the impression that the middle ground of politics in America, UK and Australia are waking up to the neocon con. Governments that have governed for narrow sectional power elites are losing public support as their policies are seen to have put their citizens in harm's way, violated their rights and the rights of many non-citizens in the name of national security. The hyperbole of the 'war on terrorism' has dominated the polemical air waves, whilst the crunch issues of global warming, poverty and international debt levels have taken a backseat.

We urgently need governments that govern for the common good, and that take good international citizenship seriously. We have to jump off Howard's 'good ship...mateship', as it thrashes about for more groups to exclude and to demonize and before it sinks from sight in a quagmire of hubris and rhetoric.

Now Howard and Downer are hectoring America over the troop pull-out platform of Obama, the most charismatic of the Democrat candidates for the Presidency. Obama has been right all along, and Bush and Howard are looking more and more like bunnies in the spotlight. The right-wing polemicists who have fueled this dark period in international affairs should be feeling uncomfortable because the greed, stupidity and ignorance of the neocon mindset will be subjected to forensic analysis when the key instigators are no longer in power.

May it be a great 'Year of the Pig' for my son and all the other young people yearning for renewed hope...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

AI: Call for independent review of anti-terror laws

A suite of anti-terror legislation has been introduced in Australia which violates human rights standards, creates potential for discrimination and increases the risk of innocent people being prosecuted.

Take action: Amnesty International believes that while governments have a responsibility to address the threat of terrorism, they must ensure that our human rights are protected.

Take action: Please write to your local Federal Member of Parliament calling for an independent review of Australia's anti-terror laws.

Australian Muslims feel under siege

Anti-terror laws in Australia undermine human rights and are generating high levels of community concern, according to a national survey conducted for Amnesty International in 2006.

This concern is perhaps most strongly felt in Australia's Muslim community. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's 2006 Annual Report links terrorism and national security measures with a rising tide of suspicion and fear directed at Australia's Arab and Muslim communities.

Terror and counter-terror

The Amnesty International report Terror and Counter-Terror: Defending our human rights presents compelling evidence of human rights abuses committed in the context of counter-terrorism measures. The report also demonstrates the power of community action.

English and Arabic versions of the report are available at the AI website.

Monday, February 05, 2007

"The White Man's Burden" debate continues

I blogged on this book the other day as it and the polemical debates it has engendered are interesting.

Easterly's book, The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, which was named among the Best Books of 2006 by the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times, challenges some orthodox thinking on aid from various perspectives.

One of my heroes, Amartya Sen, has written an excellent review of the book. Click here for Amartya Sen's review of The White Man's Burden in Foreign Affairs, and here for Easterly's response to Sen.

Easterly has stirred some luminaries of the aid world to cerebral sparring and this is timely as growing poverty is the real terrorist spectre haunting the planet. Our best brains need to be focussed on how the world's resources can be mustered to find lasting solutions.

Willy Bach has a crack at the Government's crumbling facade on treatment of Hicks

This blog piece came on my radar this morning. I believe it is only a matter of time before key perpetrators behind the systematic torture of Hicks, the failure to provide him with adequate consular protection and the denial of habeas corpus in his case, will have to confront their part in the violation of this man's human rights in court actions.

In the meantime bloggers like Willy Bach are watching: