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Monday, May 28, 2007

SMH investigates how the Howard Government benefits from Australian aid to Nauru

Today's SMH runs an investigative piece on aid to Nauru and other anomalies within Australia's official development assistance program.

I was on posting to PNG when the Tampa affair broke. PNG and Nauru were drawn into the web of obfuscation surrounding the implementation of the PS. I became involved in aspects of the Manus program in 2002 and then later served as Director of the aid program to Nauru throughout 2003.

Although I will have a lot more to say on the subject of the PS at an appropriate juncture, some of my views are reported in the SMH article.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amnesty International slams the Howard Government's human rights record

In an earlier blog I drew links between Zimbabwe and the US in terms of their efforts to marginalize key UN watchdog bodies.

Now Howard " finds himself alongside Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in an Amnesty International report which says they are among short-sighted fear-mongers dividing the world.

The human rights pressure group has accused Mr Howard of portraying asylum-seekers as a threat to national security.

The report also criticises Australia's role in the war on terror and its treatment of female victims of violence.

Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan says the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership.

Ms Khan included Mr Howard with Mr Mugabe, US President George Bush and Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir in the same scathing paragraph in her foreword to the group's annual report published today.

Ms Khan said the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership''.

"The Howard government portrayed desperate asylum-seekers in leaky boats as a threat to Australia's national security and raised a false alarm of a refugee invasion,'' Ms Khan wrote."

This blog was started in response to my growing alarm at the use of fear as a political tactic by Howard. We find ourself in poor company indeed, and this is by no means hyperbole on the part of Khan.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Human Rights in Australia & China - Villawood update

The following media release from the Refugee Action Coalition updates the appalling situation of the hunger strikers at Villawood. It appears mainstream media outlets are not covering this story. Now why would this be the case?

"Refuge supporters have grave concerns for the welfare of a Chinese asylum seeker who has been on hunger strike for 57 days. The man was transferred to hospital from the medical centre at Villawood detention centre on Tuesday (22 May).

The man began the hunger strike with nine other Villawood Chinese asylum seekers on 28 March in protest at the forced deportation of asylum seekers and to demand a review of asylum cases at Villawood and that the government gives a guarantee of the safety of those it had already deported. The other nine hunger strikers have since ended their protest.

The man is a long term Falun Gong practioner and has been in Villawood more than 18 months.

“We are calling on the Minister to act urgently,” said Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition, in Sydney. “Hunger strikers may suffer permanent organ damage after only 40 days and as we approach 60 days a hunger strike becomes critical.”

“Today the Minister has announced that he will review the cases of a number of Chinese workers in Brisbane on 457 visas. The asylum cases in Villawood deserve at least as much consideration. The Minister has wide discretionary powers to use in just such circumstances. Time is fast running out. The Minister must act,” said Ian Rintoul.

The department has power under the Migration Act to order coercive medical procedures, such as force feeding, but there are clear international recognized ethical guidelines for medical practioners dealing with political hunger strikers. The World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo states unequivocally, “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the doctor as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgement concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”

“The government has already abused this man’s human rights. It has to stop. The government has a responsibility under the Refugee Convention not to return asylum seekers anywhere they might face danger. Yet at least two of the Chinese asylum seekers deported since the hunger strike began have had problems with the Chinese authorities when they have been returned. One is unable to return home because of police surveillance of his parent’s house.

It is feared that another two with whom there has been no contact have been detained on their return.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

Human Rights in Australia & China - refugee supporters hold vigil for Villawood hunger strikers

Those who keep an eye on the appalling indifference to asylum seeker suffering displayed by the Howard Government will not be surprised by the turn of events at Villawood. Australia kowtows to China on human rights issues routinely to avoid any problems emerging on the trade front. It shocks me how sanguine the general population has become to this reality.

Refugee supporters will hold a protest vigil outside the Department of Immigration office, 26 Lee Street, Sydney, from 4.00pm-5.30pm to mark the 50th day of the hunger strike by two Chinese asylum seekers in Villawood detention centre.

The strike began on 28 March following the deportation of Chinese asylum seeker. There are grave fears concerning the welfare of the hunger strikers. Ms Yuan has been in hospital for over two weeks but is still refusing food. She suffered kidney problems after only two weeks into the hunger strike.

Reports from the hospital a few days ago indicated that Immigration may be planning to force-feed Ms Yuan.

The Refugee Action Coalition understands that Ms Yuan would have to be determined to be "incompetent" before such a step could be taken. There are strict ethical guidelines for doctors intervening in political protests.

Villawood management is now refusing to allow other detainees to visit the hunger strikers.

"W are pleading with the Minister to urgently intervene to review the cases of people at Villawood. The fate of these people is in the Ministers hands. Chinese asylum seekers have said they would rather die here than at the hands of the Chinese authorities," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

"Australia has a responsibility not to send asylum seekers anywhere they may face persecution. The hunger strikers have consistently asked for the Minister to end the forced deportations to China or anywhere else, yet the Minister has forcibly deported at least four people to China while the hunger strike has been on."

"The government promised a different Immigration department following the revelations of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon," said Ian Rintoul, "but Kevin Andrews has taken the department back to the punitive days of Philip Ruddock. The Minister has behaved recklessly with the lives of those who are supposed to be in his care."

"We do not want to see a tragedy in Villawood. These people may already have suffered permanent damage to their health on top of the suffering of the months and years of detention."

Anyone wising to let Minister Andrews know their feelings on this ongoing abuse can email him at: Kevin.Andrews.MP@aph.gov.au

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

China: Dalai Lama's visit to Australia - Postscript

It appears both Howard and Rudd will now meet the Dalai Lama. The wonder of people power pops up again. Politicians need to start listening to community concerns on human rights and Australia's reputation as a defender of the down trodden. The Howard approach to these issues has echoed the arrogant unilateralism of the Bush administration. Rudd cannot afford to make the same mistakes. Australia has to stand up to the major powers in asserting our core values when the fundamental rights of oppressed peoples such as the Tibetans are trampled.

If you wish to take direct action to encourage our political leadership to do the right thing visit the ATC website.

China: trade & money concerns prevent Australian political leaders meeting with Dalai Lama


Australian media is reporting Howard and Rudd will not meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Australia.

In the case of Howard this is to be expected. He has compromised Australia's independent stance on human rights routinely throughout his tenure. He has cozied up to China on trade while reducing bilateral human rights discussions to a set piece charade. His government has bowed to Chinese Government pressure on Falun Gong protesters in Canberra & developed collective amnesia on the systematic colonization of Tibet and persecution of the Tibetan people.

A recent article in The Independent explored the future for Tibetans after the Dalai Lama, who is looking to reduce his political leadership role:

"The trampling of Tibet by the People's Liberation Army, the trashing of its monasteries and the brainwashing of its monks and nuns, the colonisation of its towns and cities by Chinese settlers, all of which continues, was an outrage of which the Dalai Lama spoke with unique eloquence, and because the outrage was so stark he found a huge ready audience everywhere. And then, almost without us being aware of it, he was telling us about values, about morality, about happiness, in the simplest words. And because of the way he did it, most of us lingered to listen to that message, too. Tibetan Buddhism is a fabulously exotic construct, as remote and strange a religious tradition as any in the world, ineffably far away. Yet Tenzin Gyatso has a way to make it simple, without cheapening its truths. "Happiness is not something ready made," he will say, "it comes from your own actions." "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher."

The Dalai Lama is a living treasure; a spiritual leader of endless wisdom and compassion, who has maintained his non-violent stance against the appalling treatment of his people by China. Despite huge pressures to adopt a hard line approach towards the repression of his people he has stood firm.

Political leaders in free, democratic nations should meet the Dalai Lama at every opportunity. Not only would such meetings reinforce the importance of his nonviolent struggle, but I suggest these leaders need his spiritual guidance to navigate the minefields of hate and division threatening to overwhelm global peace and harmony. He is a spiritual guide for our times and it is beholden on our leadership to heed his message.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Human Rights in Australia: For refugees it just goes from bad to worse

The Australian Democrats have attacked the 'draconian' refugee welfare changes being pushed through by the Howard Government. Punishment on top of punishment on top of bullying on top of...

In the increasingly combative electoral climate Howard is again ramping up the "tough on refugees" line. He knows its a winner with large slices of the electorate, accustomed to his brand of political correctness - its ok to be afraid of refugees and to treat them like social pariahs, but 'don't worry about that while I'm around!'.

Its classic Howard. Get the troops out to bash Labor on every issue that panders to our darkest fears. Set up the straw dog to fear, find someone or some group to blame & punish and then put yourself forward as the saviour of the day. The security man who sells you razor wire to keep out pygmy possums, and if they still get in, rounds them up and trains them to do your every bidding. Its always easy when the group you are hounding are defenseless, vulnerable and scared of being kicked back over the fence.

The ABC reports "the Democrats have attacked Federal Government moves to cut the amount of time refugees can spend in Australia before they have to start searching for work.

New arrivals have had up to 13 weeks of unemployment allowance without having to look for a job but the Government is cutting that to six weeks.

People who are learning English for at least 20 hours a week will be exempt but Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says it is a draconian step.

"I think it's overkill with an eye on the political benefits of the perceptions from the general community, rather than a genuine desire to help refugees," he said.

"There's plenty of different ways you can encourage and assist and provide incentives without having to immediately resort to threatening people's income, particularly for a group of people who already have significant disadvantages."

Yes, but then that would mean treating refugees as human beings with the same needs and concerns as the rest of us. It would require moral leadership and compassion. Forget it - not on this Prime Minister's watch!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"What would Hannah say?" - echoes from 'dark times' still with us

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Jeremy Waldron revisits the life and times of Hannah Arendt. Arendt "was born in Lower Saxony on October 14, 1906. She grew up in Königsberg and studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers. In the early 1930s, she lived in Berlin and worked for a German Zionist organization, collecting evidence for publication abroad about anti-Semitism in German society. She also helped run a sort of 'underground railroad,' getting political enemies of the new Hitler regime (mostly Communists) out of the country. In 1933, after having been arrested in Berlin and held briefly for a few days by the police, she fled without papers but with her widowed mother to Prague, then Geneva, and then Paris."

Waldron asserts that much of what Arendt wrote is "pertinent to the horrors of our time":

"Like her, we are confronted with criminality in government and lying by state officials as a matter of principle. Like her, we have seen the subversion of the Constitution, abuse of the rule of law, and a disastrous war in which, facing "outright, humiliating defeat," the only imperative is to find modes of withdrawal that will somehow not count as "losing" - as though, as she said during the Vietnam War, "'the greatest power on earth' lacked the inner strength to live with defeat." True, we have our own nightmares to add: stolen elections, contempt for international institutions, liberal Islamophobia, the use and defense of torture, and the concentration of prisoners regarded as threats to America in camps where they languish indefinitely beyond the reach of the law."

Waldron is writing about America, but, by association and emulation, this resonates with the Australian experience. By electing politicians with a corrupted view of democratic values and good government we have hitched ourselves to a bandwagon characterized by "the insidious and nonspectacular aspects of political and moral deterioration. It is here...that her concept of "the banality of evil" comes into its own."

One day you wake up to find yourself in a body politic that is divisive, mean spirited, comfortable with bullying, intolerant of disadvantage and difference and bankrupt of ideas for future peace and harmony. Fear and hate become the norm, and those seeking a path that acknowledges the equal worth of all people and the universality of the human experience are marginalized and demonized.

By electing politicians that feed our fears and relieve us of the burden of free and independent thought - through "cliches and jargon, stock phrases and analogies, dogmatic adherence to established bodies of theory and ideology, the petrification of ideas" - we are all diminished. When we hear slogans such as "the war on terror", "staying the course", "cutting and running", "the Islamic community", "queue jumpers", we should be aware that it is "spin", that we are being told what to think, and this should make us suspicious and angry.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Human Rights in China: China orders resettlement of thousands of Tibetans


Tim Johnson of McClatchey Newspapers reports that "in a massive campaign that recalls the socialist engineering of an earlier era, the Chinese government has relocated some 250,000 Tibetans - nearly one-tenth of the population - from scattered rural hamlets to new "socialist villages," ordering them to build new housing largely at their own expense and without their consent.

The government calls the year-old project the "comfortable housing program," and its stated aim is to present a more modern face for this ancient region, which China has controlled since 1950.

It claims that the new housing on main roads, sometimes only a mile from previous homes, will enable small farmers and herders to have access to schools and jobs, as well as better health care and hygiene.

But the broader aim seems to be remaking Tibet - a region with its own culture, language and religious traditions - in order to have firmer political control over its population. It comes as China prepares for an influx of millions of tourists in the run-up to next year's Summer Olympic Games.

A vital element in the strategy is to displace a revered leader, the Dalai Lama, now 71, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for advocating resistance to the communist government. The government hopes to replace him after he dies with a state-appointed successor, and in the meantime it's opened the gates of Tibet to greater numbers of ethnic Han Chinese and tightened control of religious activity.

It's pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into road-building and development projects in Tibet, boosting the economy, maintaining a large military presence and keeping close tabs on the citizenry through a vast security apparatus of cameras and informants on urban streets and in the monasteries."

This type of social engineering is reminiscent of Mao's 'great leap backward' , which resulted in the impoverishment and death of millions of Chinese peasants. The systematic repression of the Tibetan people is one of the greatest & unmitigated human rights disasters of modern times.

The Chinese people must awake to this ongoing violation of international law and human rights covenants, perpetrated by their government in their name, if China wishes to be perceived as a good international citizen. The impetus for human rights reform must come from within if China is going to take its rightful place as a key actor for global peace and prosperity.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

" The world is returning to the law of the jungle, thanks to Bush and Blair"

Writing in The Independent, Michael Mansfield QC takes a swipe at the abuses of power that have become common place under the governments of Bush & Blair.

I argue Howard has taken many a leaf out of the 'governance' book of Bush and Blair. Our 'clever' politician hardly ever takes an international leadership role, but he is prone to borrow freely from fellow travelers in the new world order of unilateral preemption, the politics of fear and exclusion and a cavalier disregard for the tenets of international law.

The disrespect for truth and the rule of law that pervades the inner workings of these governments has seen not just an evaporation of trust in government and politicians generally, "but also a catastrophic erosion of the authority of international agencies that might otherwise have been able to bring about effective relief and peace".

Despite the best efforts of a largely credulous and complicit commercial media, the population at large have got the drift that they are being lied to routinely. Lack of accountability and transparency and a readiness to ignore obligations under the rule of law have weakened democratic institutions and systematically undermined the watch-dog role of international bodies established to monitor and report on the performance of nation states in meeting international obligations.

Click here to read the Mansfield article.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

"Australian dream; Australian nightmare. Some thoughts on Multiculturalism and Racism"

As a supporter of Australians All I regularly link to articles posted on the AA website. This latest offering from Eva Sallis is highly recommended:

"This is not a lecture such as a scholar would give. It is a lecture a novelist would give – that is to say, it is opinion, impression, invention and speculation.

This lecture will focus on Australians’ responsibilities to each other, how we fail each other, and how we might begin to stop failing each other. That the debates on Global Terrorism have infected how Australians view each other and how we feel about being a plural society seems to me unsurprising, but no less tragic for having been predictable. It is a sign of our weakness, and our reluctance to identify ourselves with being a many in one, a truly multicultural nation. I believe this weakness, expressed in deep endemic, multilateral racism, has a long history, and will have terrible consequences, so this lecture will focus on that weakness."

Click here to read the full article.

If Australians don't celebrate our rich pluralist and multicultural heritage, we will be much diminished and reduced to mourning its demise. Viva la difference!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tibet Activists Protest Beijing 2008 Olympics On Mt. Everest


Four Tibet activists, including a Tibetan-American, were detained by Chinese authorities yesterday after demonstrating at Mount Everest’s main base camp in Tibet.

The activists unfurled a banner reading ‘One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008’ in English, and ‘Free Tibet’ written in Tibetan and Chinese.

The protest was held on the eve of the International Olympic Committee’s announcement of the final Beijing 2008 Olympic torch relay route and as a Chinese team of climbers prepared a trial ascent of the mountain. If the IOC approves the route, China will take the torch over Mount Everest and through Tibet, a move that Tibetans and their supporters decry as offering international approval to China’s brutal occupation of Tibet.

Click here for the full story.

Click here to access the UTube video clip.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Malcolm Fraser says discrimination against Muslims rising in Australia

Malcolm Fraser has let fly at Howard's brave new social paradigm fueled by the politics of exclusion and fear. The International Herald Tribune reports that Fraser, in a lecture at the Australian National University Fraser, "said Australia's reputation as a successful multicultural society was threatened by its treatment of Muslims — a minority of 400,000 among 21 million.

"Today, for a variety of reasons, but not least because the government has sought to set Muslims aside, discrimination and defamation against Muslims has been rising dramatically," the 76-year-old former center-right leader said in a lecture on contemporary Australia at the Australian National University.

The federal discrimination watchdog, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, interviewed more than 1,400 Arab and Muslim Australians in 2003 and found that 93 percent believed there had been an increase in racism, abuse and violence against their groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.

The commission heard that women wearing hijabs feared being spat on as they walked their children to school and others suspected they had been refused jobs because they had Muslim names.

Fraser appeared to criticize Howard, once a senior minister in Fraser's government, over his claims that Muslim immigrants are falling to assimilate into Australian society and were not doing enough to condemn extremists.

"Too many in positions of influence have used language that creates a divide between the rest of the community and Islam," Fraser said of Australian politics.

Howard usually adopts a policy of not responding to Fraser's criticisms, which have become more prevalent in recent years.

Fraser is a critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which was supported by British and Australian troops, and of Washington's failure to engage in diplomacy with Iran and Syria to resolve the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

"The West's attitude to Islam is now capable of being depicted as so antagonistic, so destructive and hypocritical that it is possible to raise recruits from countries such as the United Kingdom," Fraser said, referring to suicide bomber jihadists.

Fraser accused Howard's 11-year-old government of "playing on the politics of fear."

There is a risk that "our government will build within individual Australians a fear and concern of Islam that will take decades to eradicate," Fraser said."

This blog has been banging on about this issue from its inception. I did not imagine I would ever be a fellow traveler with Fraser on any issue, but his assault on Howard's dishonest and morally bankrupt fear mongering is laudable. Australians all need to combine to rid ourselves of this canker on the body politic.