Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ACT Chief Minister - Haneef 'shows need' for Bill of Rights

The Canberra Times reports: "Former terror suspect Mohamed Haneef would not have been treated so "shabbily" if Australia had an ACT-style Bill of Human Rights, according to Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

The ACT introduced the country's first Bill of Rights the ACT Human Rights Act in 2004.

Mr Stanhope said such a Bill would have given better protection to Dr Haneef were it enacted nationally. A Bill of Rights upheld the rule of law, human rights and the separation of government and the judiciary, he said.

Mr Stanhope said his main concern about the "regrettable" Haneef affair was the interference of the Federal Government in the judicial process, through the cancellation of Dr Haneef's visa."

Australia is the only western country without a national human rights act or equivalent. In 2006 New Matilda launched a campaign to promote a Private Member's Bill to bring forward draft legislation (a draft bill can be read at the New Matilda site).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Rohingyas Win Right to Seek Asylum in Australia

The Irrawaddy reports "Seven Rohingya refugees from Burma held in a camp o­n a Pacific island have won a precedent-setting legal battle to have their applications for refugee status in Australia considered by the Canberra government.

The Australian government dropped its opposition to the Rohingyas’ case for recognition as asylum seekers in a ground-breaking decision at the Australian High Court o­n Thursday.

The Rohingyas’ lawyer, David Manne, of Australia’s Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said in a phone interview with The Irrawaddy: “Our clients have got what they wanted and what they're entitled to under Australian law”.

The seven Rohingya refugees, he said, now had “the right to have their visa assessed according to long established Australian visa rules. So they've been vindicated and the government has conceded their case”.

The Rohingyas have been held in an offshore detention center in Nauru since last October, after beaching their boat o­n Ashmore Reef, off the northwest Australian coast two months earlier.

Under a widely criticised Australian policy called the “Pacific Solution,” asylum seekers who are caught attempting to enter Australia illegally by boat are detained at offshore detention centers such as Nauru. According to Amnesty International, Australia's offshore detention centers “severely restrict and in some cases prohibit asylum seekers from access to basic needs and rights”.

The Rohingyas o­n Nauru applied o­n October 15, 2006 for refugee status visas, but Australian authorities refused to accept their applications.

Manne said immigration officials tried to persuade them to make for Malaysia, where they “are not granted any form of status and are treated as illegal immigrants by Malaysian police and local militia, and are repeatedly arrested, detained and deported, as well as being subjected to physical and psychological abuse and mistreatment of a serious nature.”

Manne said the Australian government had tried to “dodge its legal obligations by seeking to impose a refugee assessment process o­n them that was fundamentally inferior, had no legal basis, no legal accountability or safeguards at all under any legal system, let alone the Australian o­ne”.

Manne said he was seriously concerned about the well-being of asylum seekers detained in Nauru. “Everyday in Nauru is another day of damage to them. They remain in an extremely precarious situation lessening their ability to rebuild their shattered lives.

“[Living in] limbo in Nauru has been taking a serous toll o­n their health, causes profound damage and compounds their trauma. It is absolutely fundamental that there is a prompt processing of their case.”

As yet more victims of the Pacific Solution establish their bona fides as refugees the Australian Government continues its callous disregard for the human rights of people caught up in this appalling processing system.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The PM’s war on everything - Tim Dunlop looks at the Howard phenomenon.

This article caught my eye. Tim has a studied eye for the peculiarities of our leader. The politician's politician. It helps explain why the mainstream media have been largely in thrall to Howard's leadership, too often sacrificing objective analysis for access to the political club, a self possessed elite that do not necessarily reflect the broad sweep of informed views on the performance of the government.

An excerpt of Tim Dunlop's article follows:

"Peter Hartcher gets it about right in his piece this morning about the prime minister's anti-state strategy". Noting that Mr Howard has recently pursued a strategy of attacking the states at every available opportunity, Hartcher conlcudes:

Howard sees clashing noisily with the states as a winning strategy, whether he wins the individual arguments or not. If he wins, he gets his way and prevails. He is seen as a strong, effective leader. If he does not win, he is still seen as energetic and full of fight, which is very handy for a Prime Minister whose opponents are portraying him as old and stale.

But it gets better. By being seen to stand up to the states, he helps frame one of the big questions looming for voters in the federal election - are you prepared to put every government in the land into the hands of the Labor Party?

It’s a terrific way to run the country, isn’t it? Pursue divisive policy options, refuse to negotiate on important matters, blame the states for anything you can think of, from housing affordability to interest rates, all in the name of looking “tough” and scaring people about the prospect of state and federal Labor governments. Throw in the government’s ongoing demonisation of unions and its exploitation of terrorism (bring a few hundred troops home from Iraq and you hand victory to al Qaeda) and what emerges is a picture of a government willing to do anything to stay in power.

It simply underlines the most telling ongoing criticism of the prime minister, that politics trumps policy whenever necessary. Thus, in the name of looking decisive, or imaginative, or full of ideas, we are, in the run up to an election, suddenly subjected to potentially worthwhile ideas—a water scheme, Aboriginal intervention, and, most recently, public housing (after denying there was a problem)—all hatched with a lack of proper planning and investigation, without “Ts” crossed or “Is” dotted."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Australians All - David Hicks v the United States

Click here to read the summary of the Report of the Independent Observer on the David Hicks case for the Law Council of Australia. Victorian barrister Lex Lasry was appointed Queens Counsel in 1990. In the decade that followed, he was engaged in a number of significant criminal cases, including matters involving murder, manslaughter, tax and welfare fraud and drug trafficking. He has been the chairman of the Victorian Criminal Bar Association since 2002 and is a member of the Council of the International Criminal Bar for counsel practising before the International Criminal Court.

Lasry concludes:

"Ultimately, there has been no benefit from this process; only a corrosion of the rule of law.

No ground can be claimed to have been made in the so-called War on Terror. The Military Commission process at Guantanamo likewise has neither gained from it, nor shown any prospect of improvement.

Predictably, there has been no response from the Australian Government to the consistent and widespread criticism of the Military Commissions and Guantanamo Bay generally. Their support for this process has been shameful.

They have never put an argument to the Australian public as to why the Military Commission process is “full and fair”. Now that the Hicks case is over, no doubt the hope is that the issue will disappear – and, regrettably, perhaps it will.

However, Australia’s international standing and moral authority has been diminished by its support of a process so obviously at odds with the rule of law. Those with a concern for the protection of due process should be very concerned about the future of this process, particularly given its jurisdiction to impose death penalties."

Surya Deva, Lecturer at School of Law, City University of Hong Kong, has an interesting article in On Line Opinion.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A trail of lies, deception & secrecy - a view of the Haneef case from Britain.

The Guardian ran a piece on the Haneef case yesterday. The agencies involved appear to have mishandled this investigation across the board. If this is the new anti-terrorist strategy in action then questions need to be asked about the lack of application of key rule of law principles to accused terrorists. A serious miscarriage of justice is likely when the underpinnings of our justice system are disregarded.

The lack of transparency in the handling of the case and the action of the Immigration Minister in canceling Haneef's visa on obfuscated grounds that supposedly go to the question of 'character' are worrying. On the face of it these actions do not appear to serve our democracy well nor do they reflect well on the operation of our justice system. Presumed innocence and habeas corpus principles are abandoned in the name of national security. Now where have I heard of that happening before...?

The latest news is that a prominent QC has indicated the Haneef case will be dropped by the DPP.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (xiii) - Why shouldn't Australia detain children seeking asylum?

Children are vulnerable - that's why international laws are designed to protect them.

Australia's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) obliges it to maintain standards to protect children's rights and to provide them with humanitarian assistance.

Detaining children is strongly discouraged under the CRC. It provides that children should be detained only as a last resort, and then only for the shortest appropriate period of time. Any detention of children must be subject to periodic judicial review.

Australia's system of mandatory detention of undocumented asylum seekers is a serious breach of the CRC. Far from being used as a last resort, children are automatically detained - and for an indefinite period.

Children seeking asylum in Australia have no opportunity to challenge their deprivation of liberty in a fair hearing, nor are there periodic reviews of their detention as required by CRC.

Most Australian detention centres do not have the capacity to separate families from the general adult detainee group - a specification in international guidelines on refugees.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Boat victims remembered - SIEV X memorial approved

The Canberra Times reports "A CONTROVERSIAL "people's memorial" to the 353 asylum-seekers from the SIEV X, who drowned almost six years ago, has won official approval to be erected on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin.

Both the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government have given the go-ahead for the SIEV X memorial to be sited on the lakeshore at Weston Park.

It will comprise a snaking line of 300 painted timber poles, made by schools, churches and community groups around the country, to commemorate the SIEV X victims.

The 353 people, mostly Iraqi mothers and their children, drowned when their overcrowded refugee boat sank en-route to Christmas Island from Indonesia in October 2001.

The loss of the boat, code-named Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X, or SIEV X, led to a furious political row over the extent of the Australian Navy's knowledge of the sinking and the Howard Government's policies on asylum-seekers.

Psychologist Steve Biddulph and artist Beth Gibbing, both of Tasmania, have been lobbying government bodies for four years to get approval for the memorial.

An attempt to erect a temporary memorial was scuppered last year by the authority amid accusations of political interference by the Federal Government.

Mr Biddulph told the Sunday Canberra Times that the memorial would be in place for six weeks.

"This memorial tells the world that Australia cares and is not just defined by fear and greed," he said.

NCA spokesman John Thistleton said the authority's opposition to the memorial had never been political but had been based on the lack of permission from the land owners, the ACT Government.

Mr Thistleton said the SIEV X memorial project, which was supported by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, had received the territory's backing before applying to the authority.

For a permanent memorial to be erected the NCA had to agree the monument had cultural significance to Australia, and represented the nation's unique heritage and background.

But a cross-party committee of federal parliamentarians, chaired by the Prime Minister, would have the final say."

This last hurdle does not inspire confidence. There are unanswered questions about SIEV X that should be the subject of a forensic inquiry in the future.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Howard's New Tampa - Aboriginal Children Overboard

The Howard Government is now thrashing about like a lost soul, verballing terror suspects and continuing to ignore habeas corpus and other key rule of law considerations; demonizing Aboriginal communities for cheap political gains; and, ignoring the growing phalanx of international critics of its human rights record. The latest revelations on Tampa etc come as no surprise to commentators who have followed Howard's ugly pattern of populist postures that have impacted the weak and defenceless.

Below is the text of an article by Jennifer Martiniello which will be forwarded to major newspapers in Australia. Please pass on to your networks. Jennifer Martiniello is a writer and academic of Arrernte, Chinese and Anglo descent. She is a former Deputy Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, and a current member of the Advisory Board of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the ANU:

"Howard's new Tampa children overboard are our Aboriginal children. The Little Children are Sacred report does not advocate physically and psychologically invasive examinations of Aboriginal children, which could only be carried out anally and vaginally. It does not recommend scrapping the permit system to enter Aboriginal lands, nor does it recommend taking over Aboriginal 'towns' by enforced leases.

These latter two points in the Howard scheme hide the true reason for the Federal Government's use of the latest report for blatant political opportunism.

It has been an openly stated agenda that Howard wants to move Aboriginal people off their lands, and has made recent attempts to buy off Aboriginal people by offering them millions for agreeing to lease their lands to the Federal Government, e.g. Tiwi Islands and Tangentyere in Alice Springs. There was also the statement by the Federal Government that it could not continue (?!) to provide essential services to remote communities, which raised an uproar of responses in the press. The focus on the sexual abuse of children is guaranteed to evoke the most emotive responses, and therefore command attention, just like the manipulation of the Tampa situation. But while the attention of the media and the public is being emotionally coerced, what is being sneaked in under the covers?

Two issues specifically - mining companies have applied for more exploration permits in the Northern Territory, the Jabiluka uranium mining operations at Kakadu have already hit the media because of the mining company's applications to the Government to significantly expand its operations, including establishing new mines at Coronation Hill, and another critical issue - nuclear waste. The Howard Government has already mooted that nuclear waste should be dumped in the Northern Territory, on Aboriginal lands. Aboriginal traditional owners are absolutely opposed to this. We have a long history of deaths and illness from radiation, from the atomic tests at Woomera in the 1950s to the current high incidences of carcinomas in the community at Kakadu near the Jabiluka site. The main obstacle to the Federal Government's desired expansion of mining operations in the Northern Territory and nuclear waste dumping is, of course, the Aboriginal people who have occupancy of, and rights under the common law to, their traditional lands.

Following the stages of the Howard Government's usual modus operandi (defund, blame, eliminate), defunding of critical programs for remote Aboriginal community projects began in July 2004, with coerced changes to funding contracts, and monies for critically needed youth
and health programs in remote areas being the first dollars to go.

Take Mutitjulu for example, which was notoriously profiled by the ABC's Nightline program. I say notorious because one of Senator Mal Brough's personal staffers was the so-called ex-youth worker interviewed on that program, and the content of that interview was laden with myths and mistruths. The staffer in question failed to appear when summoned before a Senate inquiry to explain and the Senator's office is yet to issue a statement. When the community lodged a formal protest to Government, it was raided and their computers seized. But the program did show the effects of the Howard Government defunding of essential programs on that community, in particular the youth centre and health centre. The people at Mutitjulu also just happen to be the traditional owners of Uluru, one of this country's most lucrative tourist attractions. The Howard Government would not like us to ask who benefits by the people of Mutitjulu being forced off their community. Under the amendments to Native Title made by the Howard Government, once Aboriginal people have left their traditional lands, forcibly or otherwise, their rights under the common law that every other Australian enjoys over their land are significantly impaired.

Progressive defunding of Aboriginal art centres has also begun, with a range of community art centres not having their funding renewed by DCITA in July 2005 and 2006 in the Northern Territory, from communities in Arnhemland to mid and southern Territory communities. The art production facilitated by those Aboriginal art centres are the only means through which members of those communities can actually earn a living, as opposed to being on welfare. But then, dependent people are easier to control by means of that dependency.

The Howard Government's failed Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) have also been the catalyst for further blame shifting and progressive defunding, take Wadeye for example.

Our Aboriginal communities are being squeezed further into dysfunction and disenfranchisement by carefully targeted political engineering, the systemic and ruthless roll-out of a planned agenda.

It is no accident that Howard's scheme to address what he calls the
urgency of the Little Children are Sacred report's 97 recommendations was trotted out so very quickly, and addresses so very few of those recommendations. It is sheer political opportunism to advance an already in motion agenda, and to score points in an election year. After all, The Little Children are Sacred report is not the first of such reports, nor are its findings and recommendations new. The Federal Government has had the 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002 reports gathering dust and deliberate inaction on its shelves.

Perhaps Mr Howard has been saving them up for a rainy election year? And of course Mr Howard's scheme targets only Aboriginal communities, despite the fact that the findings specifically state that non-Aboriginal men, that is, white men, are a significant proportion of the offenders, who are black-marketeering in petrol and alcohol to gain access to Aboriginal children. What measures is the Howard Government going to take about non-Aboriginal sex offenders, pornographers, substance traffickers and the like? Nothing according to the measures announced, but then, they're not Aboriginal and they don't live on the Aboriginal communities where their victims live.

So who are the real victims here, the silenced victims of John Howard's scheme? Aboriginal children, of course, who will be subject to physically and psychologically invasive medical examinations, irrespective of their home and family circumstances, and who will deal with the mental and emotional fall-out from that? Aboriginal men, too, who become the silenced scapegoats, painted by default by John Howard as all being drunken, child-raping monsters. Perhaps the fact that almost every picture shown of Aboriginal men in the media these days shows them drunk, with a slab, cask or bottle under their arms leads Mr Howard to expect that one to pass unchallenged, irrespective of the fact that statistics show that only 15% of Aboriginal people drink alcohol, socially or otherwise, compared to around 87% of non-Aboriginal Australians. The greater majority of Aboriginal men are good, decent people. Perhaps the media would like to rethink its portrayals of Aboriginal men? How about some photos of the other alcoholics, you know, the white ones. There's more of them.

And what of our communities? The Howard Government also hasn't mentioned that the majority of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory are already dry communities, decided and enforced by those communities. But then that would spoil the picture Mr Howard wants to paint of our Aboriginal communities. Other large communities, such as Daly River, have controlled the situation by only having alcohol available from the community's club and enforce a strict four can limit. Also forgotten in the current politically opportunistic furore is the fact that Aboriginal communities around Tennant Creek and Katherine have been lobbying Governments and town councils for decades to restrict the sale of alcohol on Thursdays, when Aboriginal community people come to town for supplies. So far their pleas have been rejected. Nothing in Mr Howard's plan to facilitate that, either. Or about the control of alcohol when those people, once forced off the communities into the towns, bring their problems with them, child abuse or alcoholism and all the rest. Of course that would make access to Aboriginal children a lot easier for white offenders, they won't have to go so far to find a victim.

One last word on focus of attention. In the famous Redfern Address, the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating asked perhaps the most important question for all Australians to consider. He said 'We failed to ask the most basic of questions. We failed to ask - What if this were done to us?' What if this were done to us - to Mr and Mrs Average Australian, to our schools, youth centres, health centres, access to medical care, communities, homes, children, grandchildren? After all, current national health reports from a wide range of health organisations name sexual abuse of non-Indigenous Australian children as a crisis area in need of urgent attention. And the numbers of victims are higher.

National reports into mainstream domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse also call for urgent action, again the issues are at crisis level, and the numbers of victims and abusers are far higher than in the Little Children are Sacred report. None of the recommendations in all of those hundreds of national health reports recommend compulsory sexual health tests for every Australian child under sixteen. Not one of them recommends that a viable solution is closing down youth and health programs, in fact they all advocate that more are needed. None recommend that the victims' or the offenders' communities and homes should be surrendered to the Federal Government and put under compulsory lease agreements, and none advocate processes which would lead to either the victims or the abusers losing their rights under common law to their property as measure to control or remedy the occurrence of abuse.

Would the Howard Government even dare to contemplate such as that? I think not. It would be un-Australian, and the Government it would expect immediate legal repercussions on the grounds of impairment of human rights, extinguishment of rights under common law, discrimination, and a raft of other constitutional issues. Besides, Mr and Mrs Average Australian don't, for the most part, live on top of uranium and mineral deposits or future nuclear waste dumps.

But seriously, the most critical question for all Australians to ask themselves in the lead up to this year's Federal Election is just that - What if it were done to us? With full acknowledgment of what has already been done to workers, trade unions, student unions, public primary, secondary and tertiary education, elderly care, palliative care, medicare, crisis health care, nurses, teachers, multicultural affairs, migrant groups, women, child care, small businesses and arts workers, among the many, through the exercise of policies of social engineering and fear, your answer at the polling booth may just determine whether it will be done to you, or continue
to be done to you.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald 25th June, the Howard Government last week used the military to seize control of 60 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, which are now under military occupation. This is not Israel and Palestine. The Northern Territory is not Gaza or the West Bank. This is Australia - but is it the Australia you thought you lived in? Walk in our shoes, Aboriginal Australia's, and ask yourselves, what would itbe like to have this done to us? And then, walk with us."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A short break

Dear readers, I'm taking a short break to visit family in Queensland. I'll be back (in a week...& apologies to the governator)!

Howard in Iraq - 'Its about (err 'not about') the oil stupid!

On 6 July the SMH reported "Howard ended any suggestion of an Australian troop withdrawal before the election by saying the Government remained committed to the presence in Iraq despite the violence and "our frustration at the rate of political progress". While doing so he introduced securing Iraq's vast oil reserves as the latest reason why success in Iraq was "all the more critical".

When Dr ('I am the best Defence Minister ever') Nelson stuck his bouffant over the trench to reaffirm the bleeding obvious to anyone who makes the slightest effort to really understand what is behind the Iraq fiasco, he has been peppered by friendly fire.

In 2003 The Guardian reported "
...US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil....

Mr Wolfowitz's frank assessment of the importance of oil could not come at a worse time for the US and UK governments, which are both facing fierce criticism at home and abroad over allegations that they exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in order to justify the war."

Crikey, poor Brendie has copped a bucketing for reaffirming what the neocon hawks knew in their collective hearts of darkness from the outset. This was about getting the strategic jump on securing Iraq's oil reserves and positioning the US to bash the next domino, Iran. Meanwhile world peace and Middle Eastern stability has gone to hell in a hand basket.

Methinks Bush and his cronies and his bewildered 'mates', Blair and Howard, are going to have a tad of trouble in securing their legacy when all the grubby facts are known and the bleached bones of the wasted dead are forensically examined for cause and effect.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (xii) - What other International Conventions are relevant to asylum seekers?

The Refugee Convention is of course not the only convention that deals with situations of persecution and with the plight of those facing or fleeing gross human rights violations.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in Article 14(1) that:

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

This is a fundamental human right for all people.

Article 3.1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ('CAT') (signed by Australia on 7 September 1989) provides that:

“No State Party shall expel, return ('refouler') or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”

The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ('ICCPR') (signed by Australia on 13 November 1980) provides that:

“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life” [Article 6(1)]
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” [Article 7]
“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.” [Article 9.1]
“Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.” [Article 9.4]

Article 37 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (ratified by Australia on 17 December 1990) sets out important rights for children in relation to detention. This convention states that children should only be detained as a last resort, and then only for the shortest period of time. Any detention of children must be subject to periodic judicial review. Yet in Australia children who seek asylum in Australia but arrive without authorisation have no opportunity to challenge the deprivation of liberty in a fair hearing, nor are there periodic reviews of their detention.

Amnesty International has produced a number of documents, most notably the Fundamental standards for the protection of refugees which set out a number of procedural safeguards which are essential for identifying persons who would be at risk of serious human rights violations if returned against their will to the country they have fled or to some other country. These principles are based on international standards, such as are set out in the above international treaties and the relevant conclusions adopted by the UNHCR.

A positive step was made in this direction when the Senate Legal And Constitutional Committee in June 2000 in its Report on Australia's Refugee Determination Processes recommended that:

“the Attorney-General's Department, in conjunction with DIMA, examine the most appropriate means by which Australia's laws could be amended so as to explicitly incorporate the non-refoulement obligations of the CAT and ICCPR into domestic law.” [Recommendation 2.2]

Amnesty International continues to campaign for the inclusion of our international obligations to ensure that no-one is forcibly returned to a country where they would face torture or death.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (xi) - What are the key provisions of the Refugee Convention?

Article 1A(2) defines that the term "refugee" shall apply to any person who:

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Article 1F sets out that the provisions of the Refugee Convention shall not apply to any person if there are solid reasons to consider that they have committed a serious crime - such as a war crime, or a crime against humanity, or a serious non-political crime before they arrived in the country where they are seeking refugee. A person may also be excluded from seeking refugee status if they are guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 31.1 of the Refugee Convention provides that:

“The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

In plain English this means that it is not illegal under international law for a person to seek protection from persecution in Australia even if they arrive without proper visas and identity papers. The Refugee Convention recognises the chaotic and sudden nature of refugee flows, and outlines that states must not punish those asylum seekers who have no choice but to arrive in Australia as 'unauthorised entrants'. It is clear that policy such as mandatory detention, which does impose punishment on some asylum seekers, is against the intention of the Refugee Convention.

Critical to Australia's responsibility under the Refugee Convention is to protect from return persons who may be persecuted. Article 33 of the Convention explains the principle of non-refoulement or non-return:

“No contracting State shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, member of a particular social group or political opinion.”

This means that Australia has a responsibility to ensure that no person is forcibly returned to a country or state where they would face persecution. This is the basis of Amnesty International's casework for asylum seekers in Australia. Amnesty International works to make sure that no person would be deported from Australia to face persecution, torture or death.

Friday, July 06, 2007

'Why warriors lie down and die' - or 'how the new paternalism looks much like the old'

A reader of this blog (thanks Eilleen) has brought to my attention a book by Richard Trudgen. One can find info on the book on the ARDS website:

"The book “Why Warriors” looks at why the Yolngu (Aboriginal) people of north-east Arnhem Land face the greatest crisis in health and education since European contact. Of course it is easy to point to problems but hard to find answers..."

It is beholden upon right thinking Australians to challenge the racist paternalism of the past, to acknowledge the damage done over generations, and to stop electing politicians that perpetrate simple-minded 'white fella' solutions to complex problems.

Another article worth reading is by Rick Kuhn in the Canberra Times:

"...Underlying problems like child abuse in Aboriginal and, for that matter, other communities, is a lack of resources and power. So far, the Government has eroded resources available to Aborigines, while attacking their capacity to control their own lives.

The "new paternalism" looks a lot like the old paternalism, when indigenous people were pushed around by "Protectors of Aborigines", local bureaucrats and church appointed administrators on reserves or mission stations.

A priority of yesterday's paternalists was often to provide low-paid Aboriginal workers for domestic labour, pastoral and agricultural industries.

The new paternalists are taking steps to provide cheap and uncomplicated access to that recently reinstated Aboriginal asset land.

The Government thought that widespread prejudices against indigenous Australians could be mobilised to justify controlling their lives in ways that would be unacceptable for anyone else, at least until this precedent was set..."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Culture deaths - what do warriors do?

Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world have suffered a form of cultural death, whereby traditional coping strategies and redemptive acts in the face of crisis have lost their meaning. In his book on the terrible reality of a warrior culture's death in the context of the Crow tribe of North America, Jonathan Lear provides a harrowing window on to the fate of many aboriginal societies. His insights resonated with me when I considered the fate of warrior tribes in Australia, as amplified by Charles Taylor in his review of Lear's book:

"In the absence of effective countermeasures, the consequences of closing down a culture are obvious enough from the plight of many indigenous people, including many North American aboriginals: widespread demoralization, abuse of alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, and children who drop out of school, perpetuating the pattern in the next generation. Many well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) interventions from governments, such as setting up poorly run reservations, seem just to have made the situation worse.

One main reason for the failure of many of these interventions is that they don't manage to imagine the lives of the supposed beneficiaries themselves or engage with their feelings; and so they can't break the cycle of apathy, despair, and self-destructive behavior, and this induces further apathy and despair. A program imposed from outside can only help if it can support a project espoused by the group itself. And here is where Lear's book breaks new ground, in an extremely interesting way...

Lear sees the avoidance of despair as the indispensable condition in which a community can respond creatively to the plight of culture death. And it is only this kind of creative response from within—one that draws on the community's resources and traditions to come up with a new understanding of the ends of life—that can avoid the spiral of apathy and social decay which is the lot of so many such societies."

What a shame Brough & Howard could'nt be bothered to develop genuine bridges to these communities, built on an acknowledgment of the profound cultural loss and terrible hurt wrought by the demands of the mainstream political economy and enforced social acculturation.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (x) - Which treaty relates to Refugees?

The principle instrument for the international protection of refugees is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees ('the Refugee Convention') and the 1967 amendment entitled the Protocol Relating to Refugees. Australia ratified the Refugee Convention on 22 January 1954 and the Protocol on 13 December 1973. While Australia remains a signatory to these instruments, it is bound by their provisions.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for overseeing the Refugee Convention and assisting refugees. Their website contains much information regarding the Refugee Convention, including a special section on Protecting Refugees.

This site includes:

• Text of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol.
• The most frequently asked questions about the Convention, and their answers.
• Signing on could make all the difference - why should countries sign on to the Convention?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Howard's 'attack' on child abuse in remote NT communities - what should be done?

While the journalistic commentariat lines up behind Howard's totally inappropriate approach to the crisis in child care amongst remote indigenous communities, it begs the question, what should have been happening in these communities and what should be done now?

It is amazing that Howard's cheer squad is'nt asking why the resources that mainstream society take for granted have not been provided adequately to remote communities. From my perspective, the whole sorry story is a product of the ongoing malaise of colonization, cultural oppression, disempowerment and dispossession. Faced with the grinding reality of deep seated racism, is it really so surprising that these communities are often awash with substance abuse and child neglect? Surprise surprise, we also find these communities have been grappling with totally inadequate official support for community development programs and resources to address substance abuse problems and women's and children's health & welfare.

Radio National's Health Report this morning was illuminating.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Another poor effort by ABC's Insiders to grapple with PM Howard's child abuse intervention in NT

I have sent another comment to Insiders this morning:

"Another breath taking serving on the Howard 'law & order' intervention. Would Howard stoop so low as to play politics with the care of children? Oh yes! He's done it before with Tampa and the Pacific Solution.

Glen's (is this the same Glen Milne who used to have a pretty good grip on what's right and wrong, and whom I considered a friend?) self righteous, and, dare I say it, self-serving support of coming down hard on remote communities to protect children is disingenuous and plays to a paternalistic template that we should have moved beyond by now; and Malcolm is just not bright enough.

Karen made a fist of looking for balance in the strategy, but frankly there is no balance. This is all about politics, and your little chat about early elections underlined that in spades. Come on people, earn your dough and connect the dotted lines.

If Howard was to say sorry and make serious efforts to build genuine bridges to decolonize indigenous people, the path to social rectitude and genuine community would take a great leap forward. Until mainstream society values these people and acknowledges the worth and genius of their ancient culture Australia will be a lesser place than it could be. We have much to learn from the original custodians, especially about the significance of place and community.

Howard has turned demonization of minorities into an art form, which he cashes in on at election time. This one is perfect because protecting children is akin to motherhood. Pity about the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal men in remote areas trying to retain some semblance of dignity in the face of displacement and dispossession. Aboriginal people have been colonized, marginalized and demonized by successive paternalistic regimes that have reinforced the idea that they are inferior and in need of acculturation and integration.

As if our model of isolated, unhappy individuals (numbed by the daily telly and sporting circuses), eking out a wage slave existence in Australia's endless dormitory suburbs, is a template for traditional tribal communities to aspire to. Its all very well for middle class journos on a nice wicket to wax lyrical about interventions and law and order, but please use your collective wit to see beyond law and order and control, which is the tired old language of the colonizer and 'masta'. Can't we grow up?