Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human rights in Australia: Time to review mandatory detention of asylum seekers

ABC news reports "Australia's human rights commissioner Graeme Innes is urging the Federal Government not to use the new immigration detention centre on Christmas Island."

Australia continues to disregard human rights in the treatment of asylum seekers. The government is detaining new arrivals on Christmas Island in a facility that has the hallmarks of a prison.

The usual suspects come out of the woodwork to brand these people 'queue jumpers' etc, to justify their treatment as criminals or 'illegals'. We should have a clear position on this question, requiring the government to treat new arrivals humanely and to counter attempts by politicians, media and other commentators to demonize them for political and other purposes.

The ghost of the Pacific Solution and the shop of horrors that was the Howard Govt's refugee program still lingers in the corridors of power and will not be exorcised until these horrors are revealed and the true mentality behind their prosecution is exposed.

It is time for the ALP to review its mandatory detention policy and wring the necessary changes. A public information program to explain the reasoning behind the changes, including Australia's obligations under international refugee and human rights instruments, could usher a new awareness of our collective standing and responsibility as a defender of human rights.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SBS Documentary - The Edmund Rice Centre's "A well-grounded fear"

I have just posted the following comment on the SBS website chatroom on this excellent doco:

"Thank you for your documentary. I was a witness to much of the 'process' associated with the Nauru detainees as a member of the DIMIA coordinating committee for the Nauru detention facilities. I have been raising concerns about the violations perpetrated by the Howard Govt since early 2005 through my blog at
I have written three times to Sen Evans in his capacity as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, seeking a judicial inquiry into the refugee policies of the Howard Govt. On the 3rd occasion I received the standard perfunctory reply from DIMC stating everything is now hunky dory on the human rights front and that an inquiry would be inappropriate. I suggested terms of reference for the inquiry. One of my suggested areas of investigation was the "wrongful repatriation of asylum seekers (a particular concern of the UN Committee against Torture)". My ToR were, of course, much broader in scope because I hold strong views that the mandatory detention policy should be investigated and that those responsible for human rights violations held accountable, mainly to ensure it can never happen again."

It is time to pursue these issues more forthrightly. Politicians and public servants must understand the inviolable nature of human rights and that their systematic violation diminishes us all.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Human Rights in Tibet - EMAIL ACTION: Where is Dhondup Wangchen?

The ATC reports that in March this year, after completing the filming for his unique documentary, ‘Leaving fear Behind’, filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen was arrested in the Tibetan province of Amdo along with his assistant Jigme Gyatso, a Buddhist monk. The arrests were confirmed by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet but have not been formally acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

On 15 October, Jigme Gyasto was released from Kachu prison reporting that he had been severely tortured - including being hung by his feet from the ceiling for several hours, receiving regular beatings and being tied to an interrogation chair for days at a time.

No news has emerged on the fate of Dhondup Wangchen.

Click to send an email to Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs, requesting the Minister to push the Chinese Government to release Dhondup Wangchen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Financial systems and human rights

Hi readers, I've been overseas for a stretch but have been following recent events from the human rights perspective. It seems the excesses of Wall Street and the culture it spawned will challenge human rights more broadly than recent wars & famines. The fall out from the financial crisis fueled by a mindless greed that has underpinned the corporate culture over the last three decades will have savage consequences for the world's poor.

That documentary that likened the pathology of corporations to that of a psychopath has proved prescient. The 'I'm alright Jack' culture of excess and rampant consumerism has come unstuck in alarming fashion. We have the spectacle of earnest politicians scurrying for their Keynesian readers, trying to stem the breach by taking huge equity slices in private banks, pumping public liquidity and guaranteeing private savings. The deregulation phantasmagoria cooked up by dry rot free marketeers has imploded!

Some of the futures derivatives markets have been little more than gambling houses where greedy people played and swapped other people's money at the crap tables, betting on risky future potential earnings, and putting at risk the livelihoods of whole communities. The whole thing was a dodgy pack of cards waiting to collapse - the sub-prime mortgage fiasco was just the tip of the iceberg!

We are witnessing a cultural shift that will see financial markets change immeasurably. It could have positive implications in the longer term as the market licentiousness of the last decade was bad for the planet. Our economies have become unsustainable and people are losing sight of what is important - genuine community and shared humanity. In the meantime savings are under threat, retirement incomes will be dealt savage blows and weaker economies will be hurt.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ruddock's shameful legacy - About time an empowered post-mortem on the Howard human rights legacy proceeded!

In today's Canberra Times Jacquie Everitt puts the lie to any defence Howard govt frontbenchers may launch against a critique of their human rights record. It was abysmal and I remain concerned that a judicial review has not been convened into the worst excesses of the Howard experiment.

Everitt writes:

"The stars of the former government are in decline, none more absolutely than Philip Ruddock, who recently celebrated 35 years in Parliament. With his hard stance on refugees, he assisted John Howard more than any other minister to win an election the Coalition had been in danger of losing before the Tampa incident.

In a last-minute conversion to humanity or a desperate attempt to resurrect his depleted reputation, this Father of the House, has finally expressed unease about one aspect of Australia's mandatory immigration detention policy: the length of time it took the Howard Government to release the children from detention.

While others might be concerned at the legacy of mental damage done to the children, he told The Australian (August 13, 2008), ''If I have any regrets, it's not so much the question of the policies but the question of the speed and implementation.'' He went on to blame lack of funding as the reason the children had remained locked up for so long.

This is specious nonsense. As minister for immigration from 1996 to 2003, he had it in his power to release the children at any time and chose not to...."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


MSF are inviting you to their free awareness-raising event in Canberra on Saturday 20 September at Glebe Park.

Make sure you don't miss this chance to meet Médecins Sans Frontières field workers and discover life in a refugee camp. No bookings are required - just turn up on the day.

The event is open from 9:00am every day, with fully escorted tours, for a maximum 15 people, leaving every 15 minutes. The last tour departs at 5:00pm.

The venue and dates are:

GLEBE PARK (Corner of Akuna & Bunda Street)
Saturday 20 - Wednesday 24 September, 2008

For more information on REFUGEE CAMP IN YOUR CITY, please see the MSF website.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympics: China and IOC must learn from mistakes and uphold human rights values

AI has criticised the IOC's failure to hold China to human rights reform:

"...As the Beijing Olympics ended, Amnesty International today accused the Chinese authorities of prioritizing image over substance as it continued to persecute and punish activists and journalists during the Games.

The organization also criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for tarnishing the human rights legacy of the Olympics by turning a blind eye to the abuses.

“The Beijing Olympics have been a spectacular sporting event but they took place against a backdrop of human rights violations, with activists prevented from expressing their views peacefully and many in detention when they have committed no crime,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Program Director in Hong Kong...."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Alert & Alarmed - The IOC shuffle!

And, they shoot Tibetans who just don't want to be ruled by tyrants, and they punish grannies who have the temerity to protest their treatment by the state. Its just gets better!

Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony - Don't Forget Tibet

Channel Seven refused to show the new Tibet ad the Australia Tibet Council produced with GetUp for the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony - so ATC booked simultaneous spots on every other network, including channels Nine, Ten and SBS.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Howard's legacy

A recent post to Road to Surfdom on "Howard's services to Parliament" caught my eye. The wash-up from most of the comments would suggest Howard should be taken to a dark place and required to commit some form of redemptive act involving about a decade of self-flagellation to answer for the 'lost decade'.

Of course these things are only ever made right in the movies, but then again! I added my two bob's worth:

"Agree with all the scatological descriptions of erstwhile leader. However, it is in the order of things that unless the citizenry take the Mussolini option (ie hang the tyrant with spouse), breaking laws and violating human rights in the process, or require permanent hibernation such as Nixon experienced, invariably rotten leaders in democracies manage some form of rehabilitation, often enabled by their political opponents. This ensures they suffer a similar fate when they lose office. All in all, I would rather enjoy the benefits of a robust democracy than the Pyrrhic satisfaction of seeing one tyranny replaced by another. However, I would like to see more investigation of the human rights violations on Howard’s watch and an accounting of the rule of law kind. Perhaps the bauble round his proverbial might look a little tarnished in the wash up."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Free Tibet Olympics III

Protesters, including Australian Nicole Rycroft, unfurl a Free Tibet banner down the side of Chinese state television's new building.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

China's police state Olympics - the 'no fun' games

The IOC have still to justify their abject failure to ensure China fulfills its commitments on human rights and press freedom.

Citizens are nowhere to be found at these soulless games. PLA units in civvies were deployed to contrive a human presence in areas such as the cycling route, but it did'nt fool anyone. Party apparatchiks have obviously been issued large swags of tickets, but only show up when China is a key participant.

Rights to protest have been denied the citizenry, despite claims to the contrary by the regime. Any foreigner who deigns to raise a voice of protest is quashed ruthlessly. A British journalist covering a 'free Tibet' protest has been roughed up by secret police.

Let's face it, this is a police state that denies its citizens the rights people in progressive democracies take for granted. It cannot abide criticism, although it clearly has inordinate power. It is an immature body politic that is insecure and lacking self-confidence in its image of itself.

Despite the synchronized extravaganza of the opening ceremony, one got the feeling that key areas of the China narrative were suppressed. However, the cultural chips are on full display. A young girl was'nt allowed to sing at the ceremony because she was not pretty enough.

Echoes of the cultural revolution can be heard resounding through the empty spaces and seats that are characterizing these Games, bereft of real people and closely guarded by the regime's praetorian guard. Armoured vehicles outside the media centre is an abiding image that a studied eye cannot missconstrue.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Reporters without Borders - 'Rights group hijacks Chinese radio frequency'

News media are reporting Reporters Without Borders sent out a 20-minute program in French, Chinese and English slamming the Communist Government's control of the media and free expression.

"It's our way of saying to them, despite everything you do, here are the voices of people you want to silence and they are speaking, in the heart of Beijing on the very first day of the Olympics," a spokesman said.

It is not known how many people were able to listen to the program.

The group says it was the first broadcast by a radio station not controlled by China's Government since the Communists took power in 1949.

Free Tibet Olympics II

A bright light discernible through the smog!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Launch of TV Ad - 'Please Mr. Rudd, Speak Out For Tibet'

On the eve of Kevin Rudd's departure to the Beijing Olympics, GetUp and the Australia Tibet Council are launching a television ad appealing to the Prime Minister to use his trip to speak out for the human rights of Tibetans. You can view the ad at

The ad will be shown in a mixture of TV advertising slots on a variety of regional and metro stations around the telecast of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.

The Prime Minister has also been given a copy of the ad as he prepares to leave for Beijing to attend the opening ceremony and meet with Chinese leaders

Click here to watch the ad.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

ABC 'Insiders' - why are the right wing pamphleteers able to dominate the show?

I am curious why the Insider personnel are structured around three journalists, either from the 'free' or Murdoch Press, and the inevitable one eyed pamphleteer. I understand it may make for better 'theatre', a certain frisson, but to balance the ledger there should be a pamphleteer from the other side of politics.

The right-wing 'commentariat' do not bring much intellectual rigour to the table, particular those that are grossly impressed with themselves. You know who I mean, don't you?

It is sad to note GM being typecast in that role occasionally as he is capable of much better. For the sake of our cerebral health please balance the fare or at least have an electric muzzle that Barry can apply as the fair wind turns foul.

The Howard years are behind us after all!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Human Rights in Australia - Adele Horin: 'An era of shame we can ill afford to forgive or forget'

Following is an excerpt from Adele Horin's article in today's online SMH:

"A shameful era is over in Australian politics. The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, has announced fundamental changes to a detention regime that was the cruellest in the Western world.

It is cause for celebration, but it would be a terrible waste if Australians failed to learn the lessons of that time. It should never be forgotten that Australian politicians, with mass support, locked thousands of children and adults behind razor wire in desert camps, demonised them, stripped them of their names, turned the water cannon on them and drove many of them insane. This treatment broke their spirits and damaged their minds in ways Saddam Hussein and the Taliban never did. The vast majority were eventually found to be genuine refugees.

It would do a disservice to the refugees if their ordeal taught us nothing. What is the lesson? It is, as I see it, for a country never to allow the ends to justify its means, especially when the means involve cruelty to children. Second, to respect the rule of law and the human rights that underpin a civilised society. Innocent people are destroyed when a government jettisons basic legal principles and betrays time-honoured values."

What a shame! Not enough people were listening when they should have been. As a collective, we averted our gaze. Hopefully, never again!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Human Rights Olympics - Tear down the Great Firewall of China

It will come as no surprise to those who follow human rights issues in China that the regime has reneged on any undertakings made on internet access during the games. Just a cursory perusal of the propaganda being sprayed about on the internet by regime apologists will reveal the limited access we have to human rights information in China. The story being presented by a somewhat hysterical brigade of supporters is skewed beyond belief. Disinformation is rife, censorship is rife, corruption is rife, and human rights violations are rife, and many just don't know the extent of the problem!

For over 90 days AI will construct huge yellow ‘walls’ all over Australia to represent the Chinese internet censorship regime known as the Golden Shield or the Great Firewall of China. The first wall was in Melbourne on the 30th April and the last will be in Sydney for the 10 day countdown to the Olympic Games, 31 July.
AI needs your help to tear down the wall!

The wall has been a huge success in capital cities around Australia, now it's going on a regional tour. We need volunteers to help us reach our target of tearing down 20,000 bricks in 90 days. Each brick of the wall holds an action aimed at the internet companies who enable censorship in China, such as Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, Sohu and Baidu. These action cards call on the companies to stop assisting human rights violations. AI needs people to help the public use the wall, show them how to take action and help us get the message of human rights on the streets of Australia. AI will give you something fun to wear, all the info you need and a smile on the day.

It’s time for your town to tell these internet companies what we think!

Join the online Day of Protest!

Calling all those with a blog, website or Facebook page — we need you!

Stand up against Internet censorship in China by registering your page as part of the online the Day of Protest.

On the 10 day countdown to the Beijing Olympics (July 30), we will demonstrate our solidarity with citizens in China and strengthen our call on major internet companies to uphold human rights through ‘occupying’ as many online spaces as possible.

Be part of the protest!

Surprise, surprise, Immigration does not support a judicial review of Howard's refugee policies & programs! Hmmm!

Following is the reply I received from the Department of Immigration & Citizenship on my call for a judicial review of the previous government's refugee policies and programs:

"Thank you for your emails of 5 May, 16 June and 2 July 2008 to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, concerning Mr Zhang and a number of asylum seeker policy issues. Your emails have been referred to me for response. I regret the delay in responding.

You will appreciate that privacy considerations prevent me from discussing particular cases. However, I can assure you that the Government takes its duty of care to asylum seekers and Australia’s international human rights obligations very seriously. The Government is committed to fair and humane arrangements for all people seeking asylum in Australia.

All persons who seek to engage Australia’s protection obligations have access to an exhaustive protection determination process which includes an assessment of their claims for protection under the 1951 United Nations Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention). Applications for Protection visas are assessed on their individual merits and those found not to be refugees can seek an independent review of their case.

Where people have been found not to be owed protection, it is reasonable to expect that they should leave Australia, unless they have some other legitimate ground for staying.

The Australian Government recognises the importance of ensuring that people are treated humanely and respectfully in the removal process, and that return measures are not carried out in breach of Australia's international obligations. To this end, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship undertakes pre-removal clearances to assess whether an individual's removal would breach those obligations. This clearance process is independent of any other processes initiated by the individual, and is designed to identify any changes in the person's circumstances or in the country of return that may give rise to protection or humanitarian issues.

I note your suggestion of judicial review of asylum seeker policies and programs. While judicial review is not the appropriate mechanism for evaluating Government policies, the Department is briefing the Minister on a range of options with a view to enhancing Australia’s response to humanitarian needs. Careful consideration is being given to reform Ministerial intervention and the Minister has stated that complementary protection is one of the issues he is considering and he is, in principle, favourably disposed to it.

I can assure you that the Government takes it duty of care to asylum seekers and Australia’s international human rights obligations very seriously and is committed to ensuring that asylum seekers are treated fairly and with dignity.

You have also raised the issue of an immigration management culture which you consider underlies systematic process failures. You will be pleased to know that since the Palmer and Comrie reviews the Department has put in place wide ranging organisational support structures, taken substantial steps towards greater transparency and accountability and provided officers with extensive training opportunities to address culture issues within the Department.

Thank you for bringing this matter to the Minister’s attention.

Yours sincerely

Beth Powell
A/g Assistant Secretary
Onshore Protection Branch"

Of course, expecting the department to voluntarily support a review of its previous approach is futile. Such a decision would require political will and executive action. I am a little surprised that a call to a Minister from a retired public servant previously embroiled in the Pacific Solution was passed to his department for reply. This is either deliberately obtuse or naive. I was a senior public servant that became embroiled in the Pacific Solution. I know how the bureaucracy works. It responds to the policy directives of the government of the day. The nexus between the directives of the Coalition Govt and the implementation of the 'border security' policies by various agencies needs to be examined forensically.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Human rights in Australia: Some of the fences come down - Labor announce changes to mandatory detention

Today the Immigration Minister has announced a major shift in the approach to the detention of asylum seekers, so that where a person is not a threat to the community, they should not be detained.

Click here to read the Minister's speech.

As A Just Australia has enunciated: "we will continue to work to ensure that these changes are enacted into legislation so that future governments cannot easily return to the bad old days of detaining children in remote desert camps. The devil is in the detail, so we have to monitor the implementation of these changes. But we believe that the principles stated in the speech will be fully realized in policy change."

The task remains to bring those responsible for serious human rights violations under the erstwhile regime to account.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

End mandatory detention and expose Howard's human rights violations - Open letter to Labor

I have written three emails to Sen Evans in his capacity as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, seeking a judicial inquiry into the refugee policies of the Howard Govt. As I have not had these missives acknowledged, let alone answered, following is part of my communication:

"Under the previous government mandatory detention of asylum seekers evolved into a tragic farce played out under the gaze of key UN watchdog bodies. In Australia, apart from refugee advocate groups, the general population was alarmingly sanguine about the travesty. Its worst manifestation was the Pacific Solution, which I became embroiled in as AusAID Director of the Nauru aid program. Thankfully, one of the earliest actions of the Rudd Govt was to abolish the Pacific Solution. However, I think the Govt has to go further...

The Howard Govt thumbed its nose at the 'UN Committee against Torture' in 2005, standing by its asylum seeker policies as ‘just & fair’. In fact Howard et al thumbed their noses at international human rights instruments throughout their tenure and actively sought to undermine the credibility of the UN committee process.

Thankfully this dark chapter is over. To signal that the change wrought by the Rudd Govt represents more than window dressing, and to keep faith with UN and other international processes, I suggest a thorough judicial review is needed of the asylum seeker policies and programs of the previous Govt. The review Terms of Reference should include, but not be limited to, an investigation of:

1. Implementation of the Pacific Solution (this of course should encompass the role and use of official aid)

2. Wrongful detention of refugees and permanent residents of Australia (taking account of the previous reviews and the report of the Commonwealth Ombudsman)

3. Operation and financing of detention facilities on the mainland and offshore

4. Wrongful repatriation of asylum seekers (a particular concern of the UN Committee against Torture)

5. Influence of political staffers and Ministers in the determination of immigration decisions

6. Role of the Prime Minister's task force on 'illegal' migration'

7. Influence of 'understandings' and 'deals' with neighbouring countries on the management of Australia's refugee policies and programs

Of particular concern to me were the tawdry misuses of official aid under the Pacific Solution and the downstream implications of the strategy, which was made up on the run by bureaucrats doing their level best to engineer good outcomes from bad political motives. The perfunctory official approaches adopted toward self-harming detainees were another disturbing aspect.

As the Party that put in place the legislative framework (in particular 'mandatory detention') within which Howard evolved his refugee 'house of horrors', it is appropriate that a Labor Govt put Australia's human rights compliance at the top of the international agenda and put our domestic laws ‘house’ back in order."

Please support the GetUp campaign on mandatory detention.

Monday, July 21, 2008

WYD happy clapper event over - what did it achieve for human rights?

As all the 'pilgrims' wander off I wonder if the World Youth Day made a jot of difference to social justice and/or human rights. A huge amount of money was expended on this event and Sydney businesses doubtless had a windfall, but I got no sense that the radical social renewal message that Jesus expounded had any place in the gamut of emotions on display. I saw a bunch of pharisees telling a mildly hysterical mob how it was, how it is, and how it will ever be. Gosh, we need another Jesus to sweep that clap trap away...! Rather than the so-called 'stations of the cross', a re-examination of the sermon on the mount might be more germane for a youth audience, particularly in the face of world poverty, global violence, exploitation and rampant consumerism. Isn't it?


I'm not blogging much these days but occasionally something catches my eye or gets my goat.

The issue of detention of children is one of those. I agree strongly with the following view: "The imprisonment of children under mandatory detention policy in Australia’s detention camps was one of the worst, if not the worst, human rights violations in Australia’s post World War II history."

Here is a link to a paper delivered at the Human rights Law and Policy conference in Melbourne on June 17, 2008. Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM examines what has happened and why our human rights protection system in place has failed the children.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Human rights in Australia: Catholic World Youth Day sees further erosion of civil rights

The Catholic World Youth Day is certainly whipping up a storm in activist circles. The Catholic community is divided on the issue of police controls.

Coming hard on the heels of the Sydney lock down during APEC, I think its time the citizenry made their views felt on state control of democratic freedoms. I sent the following message to the NSW ALP yesterday:

"As an erstwhile Sydney-sider I would like to express my distress at the restrictions being placed on freedom of protest surrounding the Pope’s visit. There are many groups with a legitimate grievance concerning aspects of church policy and I can see no reason for the controls being placed on them.

The imposition of this event on NSW taxpayers is egregious enough without adding further grief through draconian restriction of freedom of protest. I was disgusted by the lockdown of Sydney during APEC, and it seems nothing has been learned from that travesty. This is not what the ALP is supposed to stand for. I understood the pandering to Howard’s autocratic style and fear mongering but this is sectarian based exclusionism and should be condemned."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lord Mugabe of Harare- 'is this a dagger I see before me?'

For readers interested in the tragedy of Zimbabwe you might find this episode illuminating.

As one comment put it, "Those whom the Gods seek to destroy they first make mad”...!

Lord Downer quits for UN limelight - Cypriots beware!

Surprise, surprise, Australia's greatest living erstwhile Foreign Minister, in his own dreamtime, is giving Parliament away for more of the limelight. Let's face it, Alex is an attention junkie who loves to feel important. His party is sooo over him, we are sooo over him, and, before long, the poor Cypriots will be sooo over him!

It is amazing how this ideologically driven buffoon, who disparaged UN processes throughout his tenure, can welcome becoming a UN emissary whilst not choking on his luncheon plonk. Would you like a snorkel with that?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bloggers abroad - China excites many opinions

I recently discovered that blog posts can have a separate life in virtual spaces disconnected from my own.

I learned that a recent post of mine on China has excited a commentary war between disparate players from US, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, UK, Thailand & China. It has led me to wonder how often this happens. There appears to be an extraordinary range of 'blog nets' that trap messages on particular subjects and broadcast them to random audiences. It is an interesting phenomenon.

China is exciting a barrage of opinion at present. Human rights activists are highlighting the failings of the regime on the human rights front, while a nationalistic fervour has gripped many people of Chinese descent, leading to attacks on anyone critical of China. A xenophobic pathology is manifesting itself in many of these virtual exchanges.

Link here to see what I mean.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


In elections this March, the people of Zimbabwe sent a clear message: Morgan Tsvangirai, not Robert Mugabe, should lead their government.

Since then, through a campaign of violence, fraud, and intimidation, Mugabe's government has undermined any hope for a legitimate run-off on June 27. The MDC has, appropriately, withdrawn. But this is not a concession of victory -- it is an acknowledgment of reality.

Now, the world's eyes turn to the leaders of Southern Africa -- without whom even Mugabe cannot retain power. Please sign on to this message to Thabo Mbeki and other Southern African leaders, and Avaaz will deliver it this week in newspaper ads throughout the region

You can take action!

Monday, June 23, 2008

China's Olympic torch puppet play in Tibet reaffirms why world leaders should boycott the Olympic opening ceremony

How long will it take the international community to respond to the fact that the Olympic torch procession is a political propaganda tool aimed at shoring up internal domestic support for the dictatorial hold exerted by the Chinese Communist Party?

The farcical torch procession in Lhasa confirms the worst fears of regime critics. While Tibetans were ordered to stay away from the ceremony a conga line of regime apparatchiks demonized the 'Dalai Lama clique' as the cause of unrest.

Whilst an Olympic boycott may not be the most appropriate gesture it is beholden on the world leadership to do something to signify the regime's violations are unacceptable. The mealy mouthed appeasement that passes for 'human rights dialogue' with China is clearly inadequate. The apologists tell us that human rights are improving. In a relative sense they are, but this is from such a low baseline that it beggars belief that the international community is satisfied. The situation of client states such as Burma and North Korea are a clear manifestation of what a world run by the Chinese dictatorship would look like.

As a recent article published in Canada put it, "Let's not forget that China bears a major, albeit indirect, responsibility for the ongoing genocide in Darfur. And only China would bestow an honorary degree on Zimbabwe's tyrannical dictator, Robert Mugabe." This latter point is not quite true as a Western University did the same to Mugabe when he was considered a genuine democrat. However, the university has recently rescinded the degree.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics should be boycotted as this is the regime's showcase. Do not provide these autocrats with an unfettered propaganda vehicle to trumpet their hyper-nationalism.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Tony Kevin: "Asking awkward questions: the uncomfortable terrain of moral dissent"

In his recent address to a writers' conference Tony Kevin spoke on the consequences of activism. Though his talk received a warm reception from the National Library audience of some 300 people, he has so far been unable to publish the text of this talk. He has agreed to publication on the RAC website, because he feels that what he said here ought to be read as widely as possible.

The risks inherent to dissent from the policies of any particular government are a conundrum faced by any public servant whose integrity and ethics are compromised by official policies and/or actions. However, failure to be true to one's self can have have bleak consequences for the dark nights of the soul.

Career damage and mental illness are just two possible scenarios faced by the disaffected officer. A severe loss of morale and a sense of guiding purpose are less tangible but equally debilitating outcomes. Someone thoroughly committed to their career can suddenly find themselves less than enthusiastic to carry out their duties and inclined toward a path of covert resistance to the dominant paradigm.

As someone who experienced this syndrome in the face of the Howard government's asylum seeker policies I empathize strongly with Tony Kevin's position and encourage readers to purchase his books.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

International Campaign for Tibet - Cancel Permission for the Olympic Torch Relay through Tibet!

Dear Tibet supporter,

The Chinese government has a chance to show the world that it is a worthy host of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. But as August approaches, a crackdown in Tibet is taking place. In response to this spring’s demonstrations against Chinese misrule in Tibet, thousands of Tibetans, including Buddhist monks and nuns have been detained. More than a hundred have reportedly been killed.

Tibetans are risking their lives to get their message out of Tibet. On March 27, 2008, during a State-organized journalists’ trip to Lhasa, monks at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple initiated a spontaneous protest on camera and in front of security personnel. On March 29, Tibetans also began a protest related to a tightly controlled visit to Lhasa by foreign diplomats.

The Chinese government response continues to be very harsh. A Tibetan woman in Ngaba County died on May 5 after being subjected to brutal torture by Chinese prison guards, according to confirmed information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. On May 7, thousands of Chinese armed police raided Labrang Monastery and arrested 140 monks. These are but a few of the many incidents that have occurred in Tibet since the beginning of March.

With the Olympics less than 80 days away, Tibet needs your help.

Take action now!

1) Petition world leaders not to attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The International Campaign for Tibet is participating in a global effort to encourage world leaders not to attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. World leaders can make this important political gesture in support of human rights and the people of Tibet.

While the Olympics are an international sporting event, there is a clear distinction between the Chinese government’s opening day extravaganza and the sporting competitions that follow. We urge world leaders to use their attendance at the opening ceremony as political leverage to press for positive change in China. Click here to sign this petition.

2) Petition the International Olympic Committee to cancel permission for the Olympic Torch Relay in Tibet.

With complete disregard for the tension in Tibet, the Chinese government still intends to take the Olympic torch through the region. This is likely to provoke new demonstrations and intensify the crackdown. We do not wish to see any more Tibetans imprisoned or killed.

The Olympic Games are an international sporting event. The Olympic torch is a symbol of peace. Neither the torch nor the Games belong to Beijing, but to the citizens of the world, including the Tibetan people. It is in their name that we call for the IOC to re-route the Olympic Torch and avoid further crackdown in Tibet. Click here to sign this petition.

Help us reach our goal of 500,000 signatures for both petitions! We need to have a big impact over the next 80 days, and now is the time to act. Please forward this message to as many people as possible, and help make an impact for Tibet.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Can this be? Chinese Army in Tibetan monk garb!

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) does not regard this photo as credible evidence of Chinese soldiers disguising themselves as Buddhist monks during unrest in Lhasa last month. This image is most likely from a movie set in which soldiers dressed as monks to serve as extras. ICT is in possession of similar images dating from 2001.

It does beg the question, what was the purpose of a film that recruited PRA regulars as Tibetan monk extras? I hope it was'nt for propaganda purposes. The PRA has its own film studio, after all! There have been accusations that soldiers dressed up as monks have been deployed to create propaganda.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Technorati labels this blog "403 Forbidden" - is that because of criticism of China and support for the Dalai Lama?

Now what is this all about? I hope this has nothing to do with China's aversion to press freedom and open criticism of its egregious human rights record!

It is curious that official hectoring of critics has become more strident and pro-China supporters more fanatical the closer we get to this tarnished Olympics. The IOC must be alarmed that China obviously hoodwinked the movement to win the games and is now rubbing its collective noses in it. Did'nt the criteria for awarding the games include improvements on the human rights front and greater press freedoms?

The world has been subjected to rent-a-crowd spectacles of unrestrained hyper-nationalism, which has left a sour taste at all stops along the way, except of course in supplicant client states. The Chinese populace should have been free to celebrate these games in an atmosphere of cultural pride and international inclusion.

Rather, the repressive policies and strategies of the regime have exposed China to opprobrium. We have been regaled with a latter day version of the red brigades stamping on dissent and shouting down opposition.

If this was to be an open platform for China to showcase her economic and cultural wares and to progress her claims for due recognition as a good international citizen, it is failing on all fronts. Propaganda and dissembling shadow plays don't work. They might satisfy a quiescent and credulous population yearning for international respect, but this is not the way. What a shame!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

China has some serious choices to make

Decades of Han Chinese migration to Tibet, accompanied by a swathe of discriminatory social engineering policies toward ethnic Tibetans, including religious persecution, inequitable economic development and cultural marginalization, have amounted to a form of cultural genocide. The number of deaths associated with state policies are unknown but believed to be above a million.

The absolute denial of basic rights to Tibetans is a terrible tragedy that the international community has failed to address. The tired polemic that China swept aside feudalism and brought modernity to Tibet is somehow meant to justify the savage suppression of a whole people reduced to second class citizens in their own land. The claim that Tibet is part of China is where the lie began.

China should never have been awarded the Olympics. You can act now!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Blog re-awakes - the plight of Tibet and China's propaganda must be exposed

I have decided to break out of a short hibernation to focus on the situation in Tibet. China has a capacity for greatness but if it continues down the current path of authoritarianism, suppression of human rights and press freedoms, its reputation will be irreparably sullied. China can choose the path of righteousness and be a force for positive change in world affairs or it can continue down the dark path of the repressive bully.

It is alarming to see the vehemence with which young, educated, middle class Chinese have attacked critics of China's Tibet policy. They have been served a carefully managed diet of state-sponsored propaganda on Tibet, such that fair-minded and well-intentioned Chinese are under the impression that Western media reporting on Tibetan protests is biased and distorted. Under the misapprehension they're defending their national dignity, young people in China today are just as misled as the cultural revolution youth gangs of the past.

Of course, switched on human rights activists in China are doing their brave best to counter the upsurge in jingoistic rantings by the state machine and a credulous populace, but it is a losing battle given the state's information controls and media manipulation.

Friday, February 08, 2008

With the demise of the Pacific Solution its time to keep my own counsel

Media reports of the last of the asylum seekers leaving Nauru today appears a fitting point to call a halt to my musings and critique of the previous Government's human rights abuses. My role in the Pacific Solution stirred me to end my APS career and do something to balance the ledger. My admiration goes out to those who took a stand against the Howard experiment. My intervention was minuscule in comparison with the efforts of some brave souls.

Much remains to be done to put this country back on an acceptable footing when it comes to treatment of refugees. Mandatory detention is an open sore that continues to fester. I will continue to lobby within ALP circles for changes on that front, but this blog is not the preferred vehicle. The potential role of the processing centre on Christmas Island is troubling and will have to be watched closely.

To regular readers, thanks for your interest and support. I have found the process both rewarding and frustrating - my mind is far from made up on the scope for blogs to reach beyond a converted audience to wring real changes in attitudes and opinions. It is a wonderful tool to proffer, collect and store information in a readily accessible format, and it provides a virtual 'speaker's corner' and printing press for the frustrated polemicist and pamphleteer lurking in all of us.

Doubtless much of what was written in mine and other blogs would strike the Bard as "...a tale … full of sound and fury; signifying nothing."

G'day and good luck...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tony Kevin warns, 'Howard mandarins capturing Labor ministers'

As an erstwhile member of the PM's task force on 'illegal' migration, I am acutely aware of the role of DIMIA and AFP executives in the development and prosecution of border control strategies. Covert operations to stymie people-smuggling have been core business for these agencies under Howard. Senior bureaucrats from these and other agencies progressed their careers effectively by serving up the policy paradigm, legal underpinnings, operational framework (with resources) and spin doctoring to keep the show on the road. Of course it was all (and no doubt continues to be ) justified under the banner of 'national security' and 'realpolitik', but my minimal role in the exercise still gives me the horrors.

Tony Kevin is a reliable commentator on such matters. In an article on the Eureka Street website, he writes that "Worrying questions are re-emerging over Australia's people-smuggling disruption program in Indonesia...How long before another mysterious life-threatening refugee boat incident happens in Australia's northern maritime approaches? Is this what the new ethical Rudd Labor Government wants to see happen on its watch? I don't think so.

Time, surely, for the full-powers judicial inquiry into people-smuggling disruption, that Faulkner and the opposition-controlled Senate advocated in 2002 and 2003. Kevin Rudd has the power to set up this enquiry tomorrow. He should seriously consider doing so."

Amen! I believe such an enquiry is essential and should also include an investigation of the inner workings of the Pacific Solution.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HREOC releases annual report on immigration detention

Last week the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) released its annual inspection report, The Summary of Observations following the Inspection of Mainland Immigration Detention Facilities 2007. The purpose of the report was to monitor conditions of immigration detention to ensure Australia's compliance with internationally-recognised human rights obligations.

The Human Rights Commission's Graeme Innes visited Immigration Detention Centres (IDC), Immigration Residential Housing units (IRH) as well as the new Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation between August and November 2007. These visits involved an inspection of the facilities and interviews with management staff, health, educational and kitchen staff as well as meetings and lunch with detainees. HREOC also visited 6 detainees who were or had been in community detention. Whilst some improvements have been made, especially by the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin, HREOC once again reiterated a number of its recommendations from the previous year's report.

Recent events at Villawood confirm the urgency for a review of the mandatory detention policy and closure of all detention facilities. We must stop treating asylum seekers like criminals.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Its not cricket, its 'monkey business'!

Sport has'nt figured on this blog before. However, the current imbroglio around the term 'monkey' and the relative merits of the arguments put by commentators and supporters of the Australian and Indian cricket teams has got my goat. A cursory trawl through Yahoo blogs yesterday revealed some Indian bloggers are lambasting Australians as being dysfunctional bullies with criminal tendencies. Whilst this would be a fair description of many of my fellow citizens, it misses the point. I have heard several Indian commentators proffer the jingoistic line that the racial slur on the Indian nation is the core issue. I beg to differ.

I have sent the following letter to Fairfax outlets:

"Racism is a problem everywhere, including Australia and India. When I was a Doctoral student in Mumbai during the late 70s and early 80s my African and Fijian student friends copped racial taunting, much like that directed at Symonds. Colour consciousness is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche, with light skinned favoured over dark.

Cricket lovers everywhere must get off the collective grass and face up to the fact that racism is a universal blight, no less an issue in Mumbai than it is in Perth. By the way, given the nature of the taunts, I am sure the source of the abuse directed at South African players in Perth during their last tour here were individuals who felt more comfortable with South Africa under apartheid.

A proactive approach by international sporting bodies to the application of human rights and anti-discrimination principles will minimize the toxic effects of racism and of jingoistic hypocrisy over the relative superiority of the attitudes of different cultures. It is time to lance the racist boil by acknowledging our universal ascent from simian primates, by celebrating our common ancestry and reveling in our cultural differences."

The failure by many commentators on both sides of the divide to grasp that a 'zero tolerance' approach to racism is essential is dissappointing. Some of our more celebrated commentators in Australia have climbed on the "its ok" bandwagon with suggestions that, as Symonds does look like a monkey he can expect to be called as such. All I hope is that the conveyor of that opinion has the guts to say it to Symonds' face, or, at the very least, acknowledge his lack of judgement and hang his head in shame.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.