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.