Friday, September 28, 2007

Human Rights in China: One Year On - Remembering the Nangpa la Shooting

Sunday 30th September, 12.30pm (EST) marks one year since Chinese border patrols opened fire on Tibetan refugees fleeing for Nepal via the Nangpa la pass, killing 17 year old Kelsang Namtso and capturing and detaining around 30 from the group including many children.

The anniversary of this tragic incident provides a poignant occasion for us to reflect on the daily struggle for basic human rights and freedoms in Tibet. Further, with the eyes of the world on China as it gears up to host the Olympics in Beijing next August, the coming year will be crucial for the Tibetan struggle. ATC is joining Tibet support groups around the world in an ambitious programme of initiatives to intensify pressure for genuine improvements in Tibet.

Keep an eye on the ATC website to find out how you can help make the coming year a turning point for the Tibetan people.

2008 - It's time for Tibet.

To blog or not to blog...and is that the question?

As I peruse my almost daily 'jousting with windmills' blog posts I wonder whether there is a method to my madness.

As human rights violations stack up and government hubris appears to know no bounds, I catch myself repeating the same phrases and sentiments. There is a limit to the lexicon one can tap to give vent to a growing disquiet at the casual indifference of so many toward the Howard Government's systematic use of fear mongering and populist xenophobia.

As I trawl through the blog-o-sphere I am amazed at how little overall attention is paid to the devaluation of civil and human rights and the ongoing flagrant violations against refugees and weaker sections of our society. The recent vote by Australia against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) is a case in point.

I set out to raise awareness of human rights violations on Howard's watch, and to provide readers with a virtual archive of ready links to primary sources to enable research and to document this sad chapter.

My blog has been listed on an international human rights blogroll, which illumines international approaches to human rights and provides online resources for human rights advocates and activists.

By any measure, however, I'm doubtful I've met my mission statement, although time might happily prove me wrong.

There are a few blogs focussed exclusively on human rights. Most of the key rights based NGOs have websites that track human rights issues and developments, but few are updated regularly. Other blogs focus primarily on political, cultural, environment and economic themes.

The discursive political blogs are favoured by virtual trawlers, with others developing a core following of repeat readers. There are also bloggers that blog about blogging, which is a little like politicians taking 'bus man holidays' online.

Self-promotion through the blog-o-sphere comes in many guises, and some of it can have genuine motivation and an upside.

The trick with blogs is knowing when the message is more than the medium...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Indigenous rights need to be included in Victorian charter

An article in The Age opines "AUSTRALIA'S reluctance to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People makes a mockery of our supposed renewed commitment to addressing the welfare of indigenous Australians. This month the UN General Assembly adopted the declaration, which reaffirms that indigenous people are entitled to all human rights recognised in international law without discrimination.

Australia opposed the declaration. How could this be so at a time when we have become so acutely aware of the health, welfare and social issues that plague our indigenous communities?

In Australia, indigenous children are more likely to be taken into state care than other children. They are more likely to become homeless and more likely to end up in jail.

Yet our Government has refused to sign a declaration that explicitly provides for the protection of indigenous women and children against violence..."

We have been poorly served by a over a decade of toadying up to the US administration in ignoring human rights considerations in responding to international developments in key welfare reform. Indigenous affairs is probably the most egregious area of neglect, undermining reconciliation progress.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Howard's Australia, where its ok for distinguished defence officers to be likened to Nazi concentration camp guards, if they become an ALP candidate!

Crikey, we have struck a new low today, just when you thought it was'nt possible. The Chief of Staff of the Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, thinks its ok to blacken the reputation of Gazza's political opponent in Eden Monaro,Colonel Mike Kelly, by likening his war service in Iraq to guarding a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

So, now ALP candidates are a new category seeking asylum from the Howard Government. If this kind of bottom feeding is going to characterize the campaign we are going to need anti-nausea medication.

Does anyone else get the message that this nasty lot need to be consigned to political history, which, by the way, is not going to be kind to them?

Monday, September 17, 2007

UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people

After twenty years of work, the declaration passed by a vote of 143 to 4 against. The four who were against were Canada, U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.


"It is a great honor and privilege to address you all in this historic day. Through the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations marks a historical milestone in its long history of developing and establishing international human rights standards.

It marks a major victory for Indigenous Peoples who actively took part in crafting this Declaration. This day will forever be etched in our history and memories as a significant gain in our long struggle for our rights as distinct peoples and cultures.*

The 13th of September 2007 will be remembered as a day when the United Nations and its Member States, together with Indigenous Peoples, reconciled with past painful histories and decided to march into the future on the path of human rights. I thank very warmly all the States who voted for the adoption of the Declaration today. All of you will be remembered by us."

Australia's opposition to what is essentially an aspirational declaration to recognize the primacy of human rights in managing reconciliation processes will be another scar in the consciousness of fair-minded Australians. Howard has cooked up a toxic stew of punitive paternalism that sets reconciliation back decades.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Who is seeking asylum from the Howard Government?

The title of this blog suggests an emphasis on the ill treatment of refugees. While that is an open sore in our body politic, it is clear that growing numbers of groups in Australia need asylum from the Howard Government.

Following is a list of internal asylum seekers in urgent need of sanctuary:

1. Aboriginal communities in remote areas of the Northern Territory
2. Immigrants running the gauntlet of the new 'citizenship test'
3. Young people battling to get a tertiary education
4. Muslim groups grappling with mandatory acculturation
5. Drug users and their families faced with proposed bastardization strategies
6. Old people in need of quality aged care
7. Union members resisting an assault on the right to bargain collectively
8. Young people discriminated against under the AWA regime
9. Regional Australians sold a lemon over & over again by right wing ideologues
10. Anyone who has'nt signed up to Howard's new political correctness

If we had a dream, it got trashed by a decade of brutish social Darwinism that saw human rights considerations traduced and trivialized. It will take concerted political and community action to restore the balance. G'day & good luck!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sri Lankans on Nauru win asylum case - but don't have a home

Despite the worst efforts of certain of the right-wing commentariat (Andrew Bolt and Kerry Chikarovski come to mind) 72 of the 83 Tamils, who were intercepted in international waters in February, have been assessed as being refugees.

Ill-informed comments along the lines of supporting Government action for "doing the right thing because they had come here illegally", and "not giving people priority over people in refugee camps overseas" flowed from denizens of Howard's zone of political correctness.

I find it hard to believe that I live in a country that spawned this specious brew of fear, intolerance and spin-doctoring, let alone see it become a mainstream political device of the incumbent to wedge political adversaries and divide a credulous electorate.

'Fear and gain', 'fear and gain', comes the mantra, and, in pursuit of power we have been sold down the river by ruthless politicians. Our standing in international fora on human rights issues has plummeted.

Although these people are genuine refugees Australia has dumped them on Nauru and refused them sanctuary. To their enduring shame, the media (with some notable exceptions such as the Fairfax Press) has been largely compliant with this low-rent populism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

After 22 years, UN votes on indigenous peoples declaration

The Survival (one of the largest and oldest organisations working for tribal peoples' rights) website reports that "Twenty-two years of intensive debate and negotiations climax this week in New York, as the UN General Assembly votes on whether to approve the declaration on indigenous peoples’ rights.

Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the Russian Federation (all of whom have large indigenous populations) have been vigorously opposing the declaration’s approval. Their actions have provoked outrage amongst tribal peoples worldwide.

The opposing countries are well known for their poor treatment of indigenous peoples. Australia, New Zealand and the United States have in the past been subject to ‘early warning and urgent action procedures’ by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)."

No surprise that the Howard Govt is again up in lights within the UN for the wrong reasons.

Monday, September 10, 2007

APEC protests - a taste of life in a Howard 'soft' police state

I was saddened on Saturday by the spectacle of 3,000 odd APEC protesters behind a steel wall of riot police, barricades, prison buses and water canon, which moved threateningly from street to street, snipers and surveillance helicopters (presumably also with snipers on board).

No risk of an Elm St event here, except if you happened to get on the wrong side of coppers whipped up into a paranoid fury of expectation by our increasingly low-rent political leadership. It is a wonder none of those well-trained snipers got carried away.

I've seen footage of a bystander wanting to cross a city street manhandled to the road by police thugs looking to take out all that pent up testosterone on somebody, all witnessed by his young son. If this is how we are fighting to protect our way of life, we have already lost.

When politicians encourage police to use excessive powers, you can rest assured they will. It is the nature of the beast, as evidenced by police actions in jurisdiction after jurisdiction ruled by political elites representing narrow sectional interests. The Apartheid regime comes to mind, as does Alabama in the 60s.

As usual, commercial TV outlets were out in force, a veritable cheer squad of hacks, foaming at the mouth at the prospect of riot footage for the evening news and 'current affairs' shock jocks. There was discernible disappointment from those 'on the ground' when the only real nastiness seem to come from some disaffected sociopath and the police themselves.

Not a good look Australia. The political and police leadership responsible for this nightmare should be held accountable.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Good ole boys - sorry, make that 'battlers' - together at APEC - sorry, make that 'OPEC'!

"Beef & oil John, beef & oil..."

Captain America - oh Lord, what have I done?

Well known Texan rhetorician admires his handiwork

'Australia's very own Devil's Island'

Arnold Zable, writing in The Age, likens the situation of asylum seekers on Nauru to the infamous Devil's Island prison colony:

"Australia remains a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee conventions, which enshrined the search for asylum as a basic human right. These conventions emerged after World War II. The conventions are based on the hard-won understanding that the right to seek refuge is one of the foundations of a civilised society.

This was understood by seafaring peoples who developed codes for the treatment of strangers who washed up on their shores. First, the stranger is greeted and fed, and given a roof over their head, and only then is he asked questions.

These societies understood that with one shift in the wind, the situation could be reversed.

Offshore processing is a cynical backdoor method of tearing up international treaties to which we are signatories. It is alarming that it has taken a hunger strike to bring these issues back into the public domain. For asylum seekers, already traumatised and vulnerable, Nauru is Australia's very own Devil's Island. The centre should be closed down and remembered as a place where human rights were grossly denied, and the bonds of civility cut asunder."

The abuses perpetrated in our name need to be brought into the open light so that they will not be repeated.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Beijing Olympics likened to Berlin under Hitler

I've been pressing the case for some time that Howard and Downer's blind dalliance with the China trade juggernaut, at the expense of human rights considerations, does not bode well.

Labour abuses, poor product quality control, exploitation of and discrimination against ethnic minorities, inadequate pollution and waste management systems, are just a few of the concerns surrounding China's rapid economic expansion.

Its military build up, ongoing threatening posture toward Taiwan and other regional players, and deepening persecution of dissidents such as Tibetan activists and Falun Gong practitioners are clear indicators of the growing threat the Chinese regime presents to global peace.

ABC reports the former head of the international and strategic divisions of the Defence Department, Allan Behm, told an APEC seminar at the Fabian Society last night that Australia does not understand China.

"Chinese strategy is built around a zero sum game - that for every winner there is a loser, and it is very important to understand that," he said.

"That is what is taught at the PLA academy of science in Beijing, and this is how fundamentally China thinks."

China wants a good relationship with Australia because it needs our resources.

But Mr Behm argues Australia is lazy and complacent about China.

"I think what worries me so much about our current policy is that we don't foresee a future where it may not be as rosy as it is now and we will be ill-prepared for that," he said."

The losers in the Chinese zero sum game are mounting. Calls for boycotts of the Beijing Olympics are getting louder.

"Australia's former human rights commissioner, Dr Sev Ozdowski, has likened next year's Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Adolf Hitler, saying it is a similar display of economic power despite millions being persecuted in the background.

"There is no freedom of speech," he said.

"People get arrested and sent to jail because of the content of their private emails."

Wake up Australia!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Human rights for Australia - 'cringers' unite

New Matilda has updated its campaign for a Human Rights Act. "The spirited comments from international lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, speaking to the media industry’s Right to Know alliance reminded us just how far back Australia has fallen..."

Stung by the criticism, AG Ruddock jumped into the fray with his usual rationale for defending the indefensible, only politicians like him really understand freedoms and their defence.

As New Matilda put it so concisely: "Ironically, Phillip Ruddock doesn’t appear to recognise that the upsurge in human rights activism in Australia, indeed the prime motivation behind the New Matilda Human Rights Act for Australia campaign, is largely attributable to his very own actions, first as Immigration Minister and now Attorney General. Many of us do cringe at the way he has undermined Australia’s international reputation for fairness and humanity in respect of refugees and asylum seekers. Ditto the reintroduction of archaic sedition laws, the recent suspension of indigenous land rights - the list goes on."

I cringe every time I see this self-serving rhetorician pop up to drone on about 'matters' before the court of public opinion. This court needs to be given voice shortly to pronounce judgement on Ruddock's tenure of 'objectivity'.

Human Rights in Australia - Sri Lankan refugees in Nauru on a hunger strike

" The Sri Lankans detained on the Pacific island of Nauru went on a hunger strike yesterday in protest of the six-month stalemate on their claims for asylum in Australia.

“We have undertaken the hunger strike as we are deeply hurt and disappointed by the fact that the Australian Government has been delaying the decision about our plea for political asylum,” an asylum seeker, A. Sujee told the Daily Mirror on an email interview.

“We are just living corpses,” he added.

“Although we faced certain visa application interviews, we don’t have a clue about our visa status. No one has given us information as to whether they are being processed and what is causing this delay,” he added.

50 of the 83 refugees are participating in the hunger strike. “Eating three meals a day does not mean living? It is for this reason we have decided to avoid the three meals and face whatever is in store in respect of our future,” stated a letter sent by the asylum seekers to the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister,"

The Age reports "Refugee advocate Susan Metcalfe, who has spent the last month on Nauru, said she had urged the men to reconsider the hunger strike.

"Some of the men involved have health problems, and at least one to two are diabetic," she said.

"They could do irreparable damage to their bodies and we could see disastrous consequences."

Ms Metcalfe said the men's anxiety and frustration had been exacerbated by the uncertainty of the election outcome and whether processing would be suspended during the caretaker period.

The men have been banned from leaving the immigration processing centre during the day following the alleged rape and indecent assault of a local Nauruan woman by six of the Sri Lankan asylum-seekers."