Saturday, March 31, 2007

Human Rights in Australia: justice, US military style - and the winner is....?

This editorial piece in The Age sums it up:

"Supporters of the United States' incarceration of alleged terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and the judicial process the US established there will see Hicks' guilty plea as evidence of culpability. On the surface it is. If someone pleads guilty, they therefore did it. That conclusion may be sustainable in a recognised court of law in the US, Australia or Britain. But the military commission procedures at Guantanamo Bay have been anything but ordinary. Indeed, the legal foundations on which they were built have been condemned worldwide — although not by the Australian Government — and have been challenged successfully through the court system. The new US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, told US President George Bush recently that the trials that arose from Guantanamo Bay were viewed with great suspicion globally and that the camp itself should be shut down. America's credibility as a defender of justice was being tarnished. Justice was not being seen to be done, or in fact being done.

David Hicks has been at Guantanamo Bay for five years; a substantial amount of that time has been in solitary confinement. This week's appearance was the third time he had faced proceedings, beginning in 2004 when he pleaded not guilty. Legal challenges, including going to the Supreme Court, have delayed procedures. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled against the commissions. The US Government then drafted new laws to circumvent the court's ruling.

Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001. The US says Hicks attended al-Qaeda training camps and was in Afghanistan to fight coalition forces. Hicks was moved to Cuba in 2002. The then secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, described those picked up in the US sweeps of Afghanistan as the "worst of the worst" terrorists.

The suspension of basic legal rights to the detainees, which was one of the reasons the US categorised them as enemy combatants and packed them away on non-US soil out of reach of the legal system, has been loudly and widely damned from the United Nations, the European Union, human rights groups, politicians of conservative and liberal persuasion, legal organisations and the man and woman in the street. The abuse, not only of the detainees' legal rights but to their physical and mental health, serves neither the interests of justice nor the reputation of the countries that have acquiesced to the quasi-judicial process."

On ABC radio this morning we had Downer doing his usual spin - 'we are strong on terrorism' - thing. The Australian Government will ensure Hicks serves out his sentence in Australia come what may, according to Downer. Alex thinks its all over bar the shouting.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. As George Williams says, "Hicks' detention raises fundamental questions of law and justice. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the silences in our own legal system about human rights have had a major impact. This has been felt not only in the approach of the Australian Government, but also in the years that it took for the case to become a mainstream political issue. Australia does not have a national charter or bill of rights that sets out and protects the freedoms of its citizens. Respect for rights such as that to a fair trial and to freedom of speech may be assumed in the community, but they are frequently not protected by the law. The result can be seen in many areas, such as in the breadth of our anti-terror laws, the detention of children seeking asylum and in the overuse of censorship powers."

What is at stake here are fundamental principles concerning the rule of law and the rights of citizens. Howard & Downer might think that these are minor matters to be dismissed perfunctorily by a hubris soaked government, but many Australians want answers as to how such matters as the 'presumption of innocence' and other basic rights were devalued by our elected representatives.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Evil is as evil does...How the Bush administration subverted the Geneva Convention

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Joseph Lelyveld states that the Bush Administration "came close to asserting the power of the commander in chief to declare anyone in the world, of whatever citizenship or location, "an unlawful enemy combatant" and—solely on the basis of that designation—to detain the person indefinitely without charge, beyond reach of any court."

Australians, through the office of the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues responsible for foreign policy dealings with the US administration, have signed up to this strategy. Howard has acted in our name. Lelyveld goes on to expose the twisted logic of what I call the ' Guantánamo syndrome':

"The five years since the first shackled prisoners were unloaded at Guantánamo have not been uneventful for constitutional scholars, lawyers concerned with human rights, and journalists of an investigative bent. Their questions and discovery motions have shaken loose information, including the names of many detainees, out of a government committed to secrecy. That information has been used as kindling for a slow-burning debate on coercive interrogation that eventually led Congress—nearly two years after publication of the notorious pictures of naked Iraqis stacked and taunted at Abu Ghraib prison—to affirm legislatively in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 that existing laws and treaty commitments barring torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (sometimes called "torture lite") were still binding on American interrogators in what was grandiosely called "the Global War on Terror."

At least the question of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment had been addressed; how effectively is another matter. The Supreme Court has also cautiously asserted its jurisdiction on detention issues, picking apart arguments made on behalf of an executive branch that hubristically called on the Court to stand aside and, essentially, let the President reign. But—as the remaining 395 captives at Guantánamo enter the sixth year of their imprisonment without a single one of them having been put on trial—the question of whether we're prepared to hold terrorist suspects without charge for the rest of their natural lives has yet to be squarely addressed by either Congress or the courts. Decisions on detention issues have been handed down and laws have been passed. Some of these may now be revisited by the incoming Democratic Congress—in particular, the recent Military Commissions Act, which, among other things, denies non-US citizens who have been arrested and held in prison recourse to the writ of habeas corpus. But the question of indefinite detention itself —which might be construed as a core issue—hangs over our discussions like a far-off thundercloud, darkening a little with each passing year and each report of another suicide attempt at Guantánamo. From the standpoint of the detainees, nothing much has changed over the years."

We now have the first so-called 'trial', a pale imitation of a free and independent court process, which saw two key members of the plaintiff's legal team disbarred on day one. Isn't it interesting that the first detainee to be subjected to this travesty of justice is an Australian.

Hicks has plea-bargained in a desperate bid to get the hell out of that hell-hole. Now we have the spectacle of the government and camp-followers claiming vindication for the abusive treatment of Hicks and all the other souls detained at 'the pleasure of the President'.

This will not stand. It cannot be allowed to stand. If it does we are all compromised and the principles of a fair and independent justice system will be irreparably damaged.

Habeas who.....?

Guilt by association....

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Guantanamo "an abhorrent aberration", says Sr Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking'

Catholic News reports that during her visit to Australia to prepare for an opera based on her book, Dead Man Walking, Sr Helen Prejean says that Guantanamo Bay is an aberration and a corruption of US values and that the release of David Hicks should be a priority.

"Guantanamo Bay is an abhorrent aberration of everything that my country ought to be about," she told reporters in Sydney yesterday, the Australian reports.

"I think it's because we do execute people. It just so smacks of empire."

Sr Prejean also said the release of Australian terror suspect David Hicks should be a priority.

"When you have a human life caught in that impossible situation where you don't have recourse to any of the means of justice, you want to get him out of there," she said.

I heard the good sister being interviewed by Alex Sloane on Canberra ABC radio this morning. Down to earth and talking turkey, Sister Helen reflected on her life and her work on behalf of victims of the US justice system. Her compassionate approach to issues surrounding the death penalty could not fail to impress even the most hardened advocate of state sanctioned murder.

Writing on her website, Sr Helen indicates "it would be sinful not to raise my voice publicly in opposition to the life-destructive policies and practices of the Bush administration...The reasons cited are many, among them:

* his reckless pursuit of war in Iraq, which has helped to destabilize the entire middle East
* his approval of torture
* his zealous promotion of imprisonment and executions
* his fiscal policies which make the wealthy people more wealthy and poor people poorer
(During the past six years poverty in the U.S. has risen 17%)"

Her condemnation of the 'Guantanamo syndrome' is not surprising as it represents one of the most egregious manifestations of the "life-destructive policies and practices of the Bush administration".

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Trials of David Hicks - When is Howard going to do the right thing? - don't hold your breath!

As this travesty of justice continues to be played out in our lounge rooms, Australians are waking up in droves to the fact that the Howard Government has been complicit in the brutalization of David Hicks for political reasons.

Click here to see The Age multimedia compilation on the Hicks case.

Out of desperation David Hicks may accept a plea bargain to get out of the Guantanamo nightmare. Whatever happens at his arraignment, this kangaroo court will never stand up to forensic scrutiny because the whole process, including rules of evidence, commission structure and political underpinning, is fundamentally dishonest.

The US administration has made this one up as it has gone along and it shows. Who is ultimately responsible for this disgrace?

Human Rights in Australia - the rights of Aboriginal Australians continue to be violated!

This blog has focused on external human rights violations perpetrated by the Howard Government.

I admit this is somewhat blinkered as, on reflection, a huge proportion of indigenous Australians 'seek asylum' internally from a paternalistic and culturally distorted mindset that dominates the Federal Government's grasp of their reality. 'Dispossession','displacement', 'colonization', 'acculturation', 'marginalization' and 'disempowerment' resonate throughout the history of government and Aboriginal community relations. The situation under the Howard Government has gone backward. The core principle of self-determination has been countered by a concerted strategy to deny Aboriginal people a distinctive identity and to devalue traditional communal coping strategies.

Writing for Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTAR), John Burnheim, identifies the crux of the problem is us (ie. mainstream white society). We discover that facile generalizations are not limited to mainstream perceptions of 'refugees' or the 'Muslim community'. We have been practicing on generations of 'Aboriginals':

"Obviously, we brought about the present situation. Put aside questions of guilt. Look at the matter constructively. Above all, look at it through Indigenous eyes.

The first thing to grasp is that, beyond the aggregated and averaged statistics, there is a vast array of Indigenous perspectives and situations. What constitutes a problem differs greatly from community to community, family to family and even within families. To a significant extent this is a result of the destruction of traditional communities and their ways of life.

More fundamentally, the facile assumption that there is a single Aboriginal people is completely wrong. Geographically as distant as Russia and Spain, Aboriginal peoples spoke a host of different languages, developed different beliefs, practices and forms of life. While they are conscious of shared predicaments, their cultural identities are not a matter of minor variations on a single set of themes, but of a variety of very specific cultures with certain resemblances between them. Focussing on their distance from us we think of them as much the same simply because they all lack features that we look for as evidence of "advancement". We think of them almost entirely in negative terms, as lacking agriculture, domesticated animals for transport and food, houses, vehicles, writing, science and technology.

Among the most salient and practically significant of these absent features is political authority. Invaders dealing with Maori or with American peoples found established political authorities with which to negotiate. They made treaties and alliances and waged wars in the ways to which they were accustomed, in spite of enormous differences in beliefs and customs. The authorities on both sides played the political power games according to rules that were well enough understood for it to be quite clear when they were broken, and that breaking them was a matter of betrayal, not just misunderstanding.

In Australian societies nobody was empowered to make law or bind the community by treaty. The law was enshrined in custom, precedent and ritual. The authority of the elders was simply a matter of their longer memories. Decision within a group was always a matter of consensus reached by talking things through. Implementation of decisions came about through a shared understanding of what was agreed.

That such a social formation allowed a great deal of freedom and and security, based on a very sophisticated set of relationships with its natural and social environment was incomprehensible to the Europeans. They were quite certain that they had nothing to learn from the natives and that the latter were incapable of learning from them.

On the other hand, the way of life of the invaders appeared so brutal, so arbitrarily artificial and so onerous to the Indigenous peoples that they found it utterly repugnant and often incomprehensible. Where the Maori and the North Americans often found uses for the weapons and tools the whites brought, the Australians had no use for them. The coming of the white men brought death to the Aboriginal peoples through mysterious diseases and arbitrary violence. The scale of the forces at the disposal of the invaders pulverised resistance. Of the countless changes imposed upon the native Australians only cheap foods and alcohol held any attraction for them.

When, later on, they were dragooned into "education" they soon discovered that they were being trained for the least congenial occupations in the white economy and taught to reject completely their own way of life. When, belatedly, they were offered medical treatment they had good reason in terms of their experience to feel that it was alien, intrusive and very likely harmful. When they were offered welfare it was always in inappropriate and demeaning forms.

It seems hardly possible to overestimate the degree of disillusionment and despair that many Aboriginal individuals and communities feel. It is hardly surprising that they have so frequently taken over the escapes that individualistic white society offers: violence, crime, alcohol and suicide or that their own traditional resources have often proved incapable of dealing with these new epidemics. Their responses are inevitably fragmented."

Sound familiar?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Just Australia - Nauru Update

Following is a message from A Just Australia on the plight of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Nauru:

"As you may be aware the Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Christmas Island have now been sent to Nauru. The Government has put into place the policies of the Designated Unauthorised Arrivals bill even though this bill was withdrawn to avoid a vote and assured defeat in the Senate in the face of community outrage and the rejection by some Liberal party politicians as well as the Opposition and minor parties.

We need to take action as a community to ensure that the asylum seekers on Nauru get access to legal help.

Click here to see actions you can take.

Geoff Pryor in the Canberra Times

The Hicks cell is coming to Canberra!

Amnesty is revving up its Bring David Hicks Home campaign with the life-size replica of Hick's cell due to be in the ACT/SNSW region from April 30th to May 5th.

Members of the public will be able to step inside the cell to experience first hand the cruel, inhumane and degrading living conditions of David Hicks while a plasma screen outside the cell will show the passage of time with images of world events which have occurred during the past 5 years.

Members of the public will also be able to record webcam messages from inside the cell to demonstrate their concerns, access internet terminals to take action online, sign postcards to become further involved with the campaign, pick up an orange ribbon, among many other activities.

Friday, March 23, 2007

ANU awards honorary doctorate to Singapore's Lee - what were they thinking?

The media waves were exercised on this subject yesterday. I wish to add my alarm to that already expressed by ANU academics et al.

Lee Kuan Yew's human rights record is a disgrace. Wrapping his polity in a garb of 'asian democracy' - underpinned by 'asian values' of hierarchical order, submissiveness, and state censorship - Lee crushed dissent and eroded human rights.

In his Introduction to Lee's Law by Chris Lydgate, Geoffrey Robertson writes:

"I once acted for some women playwrights whom Lee's government detained without trial for two years on the charge of "singing progressive songs and performing plays which exaggerated the plight of the poor and the inadequacies of the existing system." The existing system in Singapore could not tolerate honest critics who wanted to make it operate more equitably, not because they were espousing Western liberalism at odds with "Asian values" but because they were advocating rights which should belong to everyone, everywhere...The PAP intimidated whole electorates by the threat to demolish their public services if they returned a Workers' Party candidate. This was an apt reminder that democracy is a necessary but not sufficient guarantee of human rights: that can only be achieved by laws which entrench free speech, due process, and fair trial by an independent and impartial judiciary."

I am at a loss to understand the rationale for this glorification of repression, except as a sop to Singapore’s political elite to bolster ANU’s profile in Singapore. This is not a good look for such a fine university.

The ANU executive should be ashamed of this decision. Express your view of this travesty to the ANU executive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Australians All - "Here we go again" - by Julian Burnside

"If the Sri Lankans are determined to be refugees, which looks likely, they will not be offered protection by Australia. Instead, we will hawk them around the world to see if another country will take them. The effrontery of this is awesome."

So writes Julian Burnside in his article on the Australians All website. I recommend this to anyone who takes asylum seeker issues seriously.

'A reviled PM looks to history to vindicate his war gamble'

Has a ring about it don't you think? This article is about Blair, but it could be about Howard or Bush.

Now we are being served a cocktail of spin in terms of the 'surge', and a lot of hand wringing about 'small successes' in the 'war on terror' - leather jackets and hard hats in the war zone, glad handing the troops, homilies on staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have seen it all before. Even the most credulous of voters must be waking up to the fact that the three amigos have been responsible for the greatest foreign policy foul up since the Vietnam War. Relying on manipulated intelligence and a compromised media, they appear to have betrayed the interests of their own people in order to achieve poorly conceived strategic gains in the Middle East. None of those gains have been realized. On the contrary, the security situation in the Middle East has deteriorated markedly as a direct result of the Iraq invasion and occupation. The human tragedy of the Iraq refugee situation is just one of the disastrous consequences of this strategy being played out in the region. Bush, Blair & Howard have done little to address this humanitarian crisis.

Instead of finding the backbone to front their 'mistakes', we will be served a diet of weasel words and self-justification by these failed leaders.

Howard is now going to ramp up the disinformation machine on the 'war on terror' to try to claw back his fading electoral support. We can expect a barrage of spin on how well it's all going, and how disastrous it would be if we stopped occupying these countries militarily. It is nonsense of course.

There are much wiser strategies to pursue, involving the hard yards of international diplomacy and adequately resourced & sensibly targeted development cooperation, including debt relief, in-country & third country training, humanitarian assistance, social infrastructure and governance support. A massive multilateral effort is needed to facilitate reconciliation between the warring parties in Iraq and Afghanistan and to resource adequately the provision of a peace dividend.

Peace has to be in the interest of all the antagonists. This will require international and national actors reaching out to compromise across ethnic, religious and political divides. Extremist postures can only be drowned out and marginalized by re-taking the middle ground of politics and through concerted & sustained efforts to find lasting solutions to poverty, disempowerment and alienation.

Methinks we won't get anywhere near this scenario with the amigos in power.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Human Rights in China: Hearing on Tibet: Statement by Richard Gere

On 13 March Richard Gere appeared before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives. Following is an excerpt from his statement:

"...As China rises to accept its very public role as host to the 2008 games, our political leaders have a responsibility to help us understand China and prepare us for the sure-to-be-radically changed post-Olympics China that will follow. Instinctively, Americans realize that China will emerge as either our greatest partner or greatest competitor and in the weeks and months ahead this must be addressed in both parties' platforms and clearly articulated in the upcoming presidential campaigns.

Among the many areas where congressional leadership has shaped US China policy, Tibet stands out. Mr. Chairman, for twenty years, you and I have been meeting to discuss Tibet, mostly with heavy hearts. I have listened with appreciation and admiration as you and your colleagues register outrage over human rights abuses and urge strategies to move China towards genuine, systematic reform but we still face an uphill battle and the human rights situation for Tibetans has not improved.

Nonetheless, the tremendous outpouring of international support for Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including and I believe most-significantly, congressional actions, have had a bearing on Beijing, so much so that we have come to believe the Tibet issue we are facing can be resolved.

Confidence in this premise has inspired legislation crafted in this Committee and in its Senate counterpart to mandate the appointment of a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues with the responsibility to promote a negotiated solution for Tibet. Three successive appointments of high level officials to this position by US Secretaries of State have been committed to the engagement of Chinese officials and the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in a process of dialogue.

You have heard from Under Secretary Dobriansky on the initiatives taken by President Bush and his administration and from Lodi Gyari on his discussions with the Chinese. Their testimonies suggest a way forward, given sufficient political will in Beijing which thus far has been sadly lacking. I think it is fair to say that all parties are considering when and how the direct participation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama can be engaged to achieve a positive resolution for both parties. A win-win is possible. For those of us who know His Holiness, it is impossible to conceive that his involvement would be an impediment or a stumbling block. In fact, the Nobel Peace Laureate is the perfect partner for an equitable solution. So why has Beijing been so unwilling to embrace this simple truth'

China craves success and respectability. Its economic success is in most ways indisputable and certainly hosting the Olympics is a high-prestige occasion. But what concerns me and other Americans is how China is winning respectability and extending its influence as a global player. And at what cost to us'

However, with regard to Tibet, respectability rests on legitimacy, and China has come to its claim on Tibet by invasion and occupation and not through the Communist revolution that provided the legitimacy for that party's rule in China.

The Dalai Lama embodies China's lack of legitimacy and it is therefore reasonable to assume that Chinese leaders fear that a return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and the emotional welcome that would greet him, would only underscore this point. But that's clearly a short sighted point of view that belies President Hu Jintao's commitment to a 'harmonious society' which is inclusive of Tibetans and all other ethnic minorities in China. Ironically, the Dalai Lama actually affords China the opportunity for a lasting and peaceful solution with the Tibetan people that would otherwise be impossible. The stability and legitimacy the Dalai Lama would bring is very good indeed for China's short and long term interests.

Unfortunately, nothing illustrates China's failure of respectability more vividly than its current policies and actions in Tibet. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949-50, Tibetans who did not escape into exile with the Dalai Lama have been systematically brutalized and increasingly marginalized. China's breakneck economic success has, in Tibet, led to inappropriate economic and social policies that make certain the even-further and perhaps permanent marginalization of Tibetans. These policies, which are rapidly transforming Tibet, are based on an urban, technocratic model that favors Chinese settlers and does not take into account Tibetans' needs, views or the way of life that has sustained them successfully on the highest plateau of Asia for centuries. These policies present the most serious threat by the Chinese yet to the survival of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity."

If you are interested in supporting activities to free Tibet please visit the Australia Tibet Council website.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - the Pacific Solution gets another workout - Australia loses its moral compass!

ABC Online reports "refugee groups have condemned the Federal Government's decision to send a group of 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Nauru.

They also have concerns for a 17-year-old travelling with the group, who will also be sent to the Pacific island.

Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) spokesman Ian Rintoul says the Government's actions are a disgrace.

"All they're really doing is revealing how brutal they are as far as human rights is concerned and that they don't give a toss," Mr Rintoul said.

"We think it's an absolute disgrace and are really outraged that the Government is taking this measure.

"It knows that the people on Nauru will not be treated properly.

"They will not have access to Australian law and they're breaching Australians obligations to offer these people protection."

Refugee Council of Australia (RCA) spokesman John Gibson says the group would be better off staying on Christmas Island, where there are much better facilities and where they would have access to lawyers to help with their claims for asylum.

"It's another sorry chapter in this Government's record of treating people who apply for asylum," he said.

Mr Gibson also says he is concerned about the effect it will have on a 17-year-old boy, who is travelling with the group.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says the teenager will be sent to Nauru but he will be housed in the community with a friend.

UN criticism

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says Australia needs to improve the system of processing asylum seekers on Nauru.

UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery says Nauru lacks important safeguards available to asylum seekers processed in Australia.

"Things like access to an independent merits review, access to the courts and the fact that there's no access to legal assistance," she said.

"So the current situation on Nauru done as it's been practiced in the past would raise concerns and we'd certainly welcome any improvements to that system that Australia could implement."

Mr Andrews has said the Government would prefer the men not be brought to Australia if they are deemed refugees."

In terms of the full spectrum of human rights violations, this decision is better than putting these unfortunate souls in direct harm's way by returning them to Indonesia. However, for all the reasons articulated previously by this blog, the Nauru arrangements are an ongoing blight on Australia's human rights record and will be the subject of forensic analysis at some stage.

The Howard government has breached the UN convention on refugees routinely as part of its political posture to ramp up fear and loathing. It stands condemned for this and a raft of related human rights violations.

Friday, March 09, 2007

In memory of Allison Sudradjat

A good friend and ex-colleague, Allison Sudradjat, died in the terrible Garuda aircraft crash last week.

I became friends with Allison at the start of her career with AusAID, and had the great fortune to work together with her on posting to PNG. Allison was a loyal, brave, generous, wonderful friend. During my time in AusAID we would frequently have lunch or morning coffee together to catch up on the latest office, political and personal gossip. With a twinkle in her eye Allison would detail the exploits of her adored family.

Allison was great fun to be with; extremely intelligent with an amusing satirical eye for the cant, hypocrisy and various forms of naked self-promotion that are part and parcel of the human condition. With a rapier wit that was never nasty, she was able to cut through the fog of bureaucratic confusion, management hubris and outright silliness that lurks in the corridors of any Federal Government agency.

Allison was brilliant at her job, because she really cared about people and the potential impact of development aid. She was very supportive of colleagues, and helped many along the way, including yours truly. When I was going through a personal crisis affecting my career she was one of the few to stand by me with friendship and advice.

Allison was an inspiring role model for those lucky enough to know her - she was truly blessed and selfless. Her genius for life can be found in the words of a Sufi poem

"I thought of You so often
that I completely became You.
Little by little You drew near,
and slowly but slowly I passed away."

(Javad Nurbaksh, In the Tavern of Ruin")

I am going to miss you will always be in my heart.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Howard's spin machine looking wobbly - the MacBeth syndrome is in play!

The spectacle of Howard and his attack dogs spinning out of control over the Burke blunder has convinced all but rusted on Howard lovers that its time he and his hubris soaked front bench were sent packing.

If it was'nt such an ugly smear campaign it would be up in lights as one of the more amusing pantomimes in the Aussie political pantheon. Keating's foray on the travails of the desiccated coconut would be worth the price of admission. Sit back and enjoy the discomfort of Howard and the pretender to his job (the oh so bombastic Costello), as they watch their half-smart mud sling fill a pit full of angry crocs waiting to attack the next Coalition politician and/or business supporter that gets caught in the slip. It could'nt happen to a nicer bunch of blokes!

Richard Woolcott has again launched an attack on Howard's poor relationship with the truth. His piece in the Canberra Times (part of a speech), entitled "Truth Spinning Out of Control", is worth a read:

"...a government can deceive some of the people for some of the time but, if it adopts unsound policies and then, when they start to unravel, it attempts to reinforce them with "political spin" and cover-up, no amount of government public diplomacy can turn a disaster into a success. When a knowledgable comment from outside government touches a nerve because it is stating an uncomfortable truth, it can be assumed that it is generally bad public diplomacy to respond with bombastic rhetoric and the denigration of the commentators.

A major threat to effective public diplomacy and indeed to the credibility of the Government itself is any attempt to obscure the truth from the public. There are many recent examples of the dissembling I have in mind, especially related to Iraq. One is when Howard said in July 2005 that the London bombings "had nothing to do with Iraq". As British police inquiries have made clear, they did. These were not random explosions that might have occurred in Oslo or Auckland. They were a specific attack on the Blair Government for its wholehearted support for the Bush Administration policies and especially the decision to join the invasion of Iraq. Howard's spin was intended to obscure for the Australian people the fact that his policies had increased not decreased the risk of a terrorist attack in Australia.

Another example, closer to home, was at the time of the riots in Cronulla when Howard said, there was "no underlying racism in this country".

We all know that there are undercurrents of racism in Australia, which our political leaders should acknowledge, never exploit and take the lead in resisting.

Truth in government has been largely submerged in political spin and cover-up, especially on matters related to Iraq and, as we have seen over the past few days, on domestic politics. Australians may be enjoying the benefits of living in an economically prosperous country.

But, if a government pursues a morally deficient political culture, in which its errors of judgment are never acknowledged, a climate is created in which public diplomacy will find it hard to breathe and in which it will, regrettably, be focused mainly on damage control."

'Out, out damn spot', or words to that effect, seem to apply more and more to Howard and his cohort of 'bovver' boys. As Howard wanders the corridors doing his Lady MacBeth number, the nation will look to a marching forest of voters to bring down the curtain (deepest apologies to the bard).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Australians All

Having just become a supporter of Australians All, I thought I would post this short homily from Malcolm Fraser, a founding member of AA:

"Above this is a page from your passport. It sets out the government’s promise - and its moral and ethical duty - to do what it can to protect Australian citizens and to make sure that they are not subject to arbitrary, irrational arrest or subjected to torture at the hands of another country or power. Perhaps our passports don’t mean what they say any more."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hicks, Howard and Rogue USA - a view from America

Writing in the Portland Indy Media Centre, an American contributor nails the Howard hide to the barn wall of political expediency. How Howard's assault on Rudd's judgement does'nt stick in his throat is beyond me, but he and his closest cohort are capable of egregiously twisted rhetoric when their political hide is at stake:

"Anyone familiar with the criminal tactics of thoroughly corrupt State Institutions would not be surprised to learn of the plea bargain offered Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks. After five years of torture and various other forms of physical and psychological abuse, the U.S. has offered a deal that would see Hicks released from Guantanamo but not necessarily from continued incarceration.

The U.S. faces numerous legal actions resulting from its treatment of detainees in various illegal detention centres around the world. However, a guilty plea from any detainee would exonerate the torturers and justify the illegal detention. Future actions against the USA for illegal detention, torture and a host of other breaches of international law and human rights violations would be greatly compromised by any guilty plea - a fact not lost on all parties involved in the Hicks case.

The Hicks case has become a political issue in Australia; public opinion has clearly turned against the government. The injustice of five years detention without trial is having a profound effect on the Australian electorate; a fact not lost on the politically astute Prime Minister. Howard acts only when the political cost of his actions (inaction in the Hicks case) threatens to jeopardise his future tenure in government. Howard is the lowest form of political animal as the Hicks case clearly proves - where was Howard from the first day of Hicks' illegal incarceration?

Only when Howard himself suffers negative consequences does he act -- a most despicable characteristic for anyone in high office. We would remind John Howard that relative to the agony and horror suffered by a young Australian over the past five years few Australians would sympathise with a derelict Prime Minister's political discomfort!

In the event that Hicks understandably succumbs to pressure and accepts a guilty plea bargain that would see him back in Australia, no Australian should ever forget the callous disregard the Howard government displayed toward a citizen in trouble. Every attempt to politically capitalise on the long overdue Hicks release by Howard should be viewed with the contempt it deserves.

John Howard is clearly a moral bankrupt and loathsome human being; he not only deserves to be removed from government but also deserves to be investigated for complicity in war and other crimes against humanity."

I am growing in faith that a majority of Aussie voters finally see the true nature of this political project...We don't like to admit we got it wrong, but we don't like our values and principles trashed either.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Abbot & Costello show - Oops, who's been 'supping with the devil' then?

As predicted in my previous post, no doubt Coalition constituents met with Burke. Little did I know that one of Howard's Ministers would show up on the radar so quickly, and now I suspect a plethora of the 'mates' will have to put their hands up.

The Abbott & Costello OTT attack on Rudd has blown up in their faces and revealed the 'consomme a la hubris' they snorkle in. As I pointed out yesterday, 'perspective' is needed in viewing this assault.

We have a government that has betrayed its duty of trusteeship to the Australian people on many fronts. Who's the real devil then? Who has lied routinely to stay in power? Who declared war in Iraq on the basis of dodgy intelligence? Who has set up a series of straw dog fears to frighten credulous voters? Who has colluded with US agencies to deny David Hicks natural justice? The list goes on and on and on...

Friday, March 02, 2007

While Rudd met Burke, Howard "betrayed a whole nation"

Retroactive material support for terrorism. Wow! All against a backdrop of torture and other forms of abuse stretching back to the time of Hick's arrest. Not only has Howard put this country in an 'unilateral' black hole in Iraq, he has actively condoned the systematic abuse of an Australian citizen's rights by US agencies.

Coalition front benchers had a field day in Parliament yesterday, heckling Rudd over his unfortunate liaison with Brian Burke. Of course, I suggest a good number of Coalition constituents have made that mistake as well, but they are not leader of the Opposition. Rudd will doubtless take some political heat over this.

However, in the overall scheme of things, this failure of judgment pales into insignificance against the abysmal record of unmitigated foreign policy and duty of care misjudgments Howard has made on Iraq and Hicks.

As a 'postee' on The Age blog put it: "Howard BETRAYED all the Australian people AND I do not think that has been done by any previous PM!"

Perspective, people, please!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Who's lucky country...?

Could'nt resist this offering from Daily Flute:

Human Rights in Australia: why asylum seekers may come from Sri Lanka

I watched Insiders last Sunday and heard that fount of knowledge on International affairs, Andrew Bolt, say Sri Lanka is one of the last countries that should be taken seriously as a source of refugees. I can't remember his exact words as most of his proffering is unintelligible.

I thought I would check what DFAT's website has to say on the savage civil conflict that has been raging in Sri Lanka since 1983. Following is an excerpt:

"Despite the failure of past attempts to negotiate a durable peace settlement, in February 2002 the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE signed an agreement for an indefinite ceasefire. Supervised by a small peace monitoring mission led by Norway, the ceasefire resulted in the gradual return of a degree of normalcy across the country. Security restrictions in government-controlled areas were eased, freedom of movement of people and goods to the north and east increased, and fishing restrictions for the Tamil population in the north were relaxed. Six rounds of peace talks were held between September 2002 and April 2003 when the LTTE suspended participation mainly due to its dissatisfaction with the pace of progress towards granting interim regional autonomy in the north and east.

The ceasefire came under mounting pressure in 2004, following a split between the eastern and northern ‘wings’ of the LTTE, violence between the two, and allegations by the LTTE leadership of government involvement in the split and threats of a return to war. The then Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, was assassinated on 12 August 2005 in Colombo. Despite this assassination, the Sri Lankan Government reiterated its commitment to the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE.

In December 2005 and January 2006, there was an escalation in violence, including attacks by the LTTE in the north and east in which at least 60 members of the security forces were killed

The Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE met in Geneva in February 2006 for talks on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. However further surges in violence in April and May led to the cancellation of talks scheduled to take place in Geneva in April. Since then, there has been a further escalation in the violence with a number of LTTE attacks including suicide attacks in Colombo. Sri Lankan armed forces have mounted aerial and ground attacks on LTTE positions in the east and north, and have captured Vakarai in the east. According to the UN, around 200,000 civilians have been displaced and are living in refugee camps in Sri Lanka’s north-east. The immediate prospects for a resumption of peace talks appear to be diminishing."

Within two minutes of doing some additional research on the situation in Sri Lanka I uncovered several major areas of concern for Tamil people that could lead to asylum being sought in countries that observe international refugee law and convention, such as Australia.

On 24 January 2007 Human Rights Watch released a report on child and youth abductions: "With the complicity or willful blindness of the Sri Lankan government, the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of children in eastern Sri Lanka...The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has documented more than 200 cases of child recruitment by the Karuna group in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts, where the group is active. But the real number is certainly much higher due to underreporting.

Children are not the only targets. Human Rights Watch found that the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of young men between ages 18 and 30. Human Rights Watch knows of only two cases in which the Karuna group abducted girls. It generally targets poor families, and often those who have already had a child recruited by the Tamil Tigers."

In another area of the HRW site I found a short piece that sums up the response of those calling for a hard-line on the Sri Lankan refugees:

"Refugees and asylum seekers are often victims of repeated racism. Once they flee their countries to escape racism and ethnic intolerance, then they often are unable to find safety because of governments' xenophobic and exclusionary immigration policies. Those who do are frequently subject to racist and xenophobic treatment in their countries of refuge, and millions are unable to return to their own countries because of racial and ethnic discrimination."

Back in 2005 I wrote that we "are looking more and more like a xenophobic client state of the US, an uncompassionate society ready to disbelieve the legitimate claims of asylum seekers who didn’t stand in a non-existent queue of orderly people waiting for whichever repressive regime they are escaping to allow them to migrate. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times."

When will Australia re-discover its true values of a fair go, decency and a larrikin disregard for the narrow-minded bigots of this world?