Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Desperate Liberals resort to 'yellow peril' fear & smear campaign

The tiny coterie of regular readers of this blog will know I'm no fan of the ruling regime in China. I am a strident critic of China's human rights record and its colonial repression of Tibet. However, the recent foray of senior Opposition politicians into the realms of fear and smear is an egregious throwback to 'White Australia' thinking, much like Howard demonized Muslims to build populist support for his border control regime.

The Howard govt routinely avoided raising human rights issues with China in any meaningful way on its watch, treading the well-worn diplomatic path of annual bilateral dialogue on human rights that did not advance any of the key areas of concern one iota.

So, concerns over human rights have nothing to do with this attack on the Rudd government's links with China. Rudd has been labeled the 'Manchurian Candidate' and representing China's interests in the context of the G20. This is pretty low stuff; in fact, it is plumbing a barrel well scraped by Howard et al.

The psephology blog, Pollytics, had a piece on this yesterday.

Our engagement with China on the economic front provides opportunities to progress a human rights agenda. It is beholden on the Rudd Government to utilize its access to good affect and to not let China off the hook on human rights. However, the Opposition must be condemned for tapping into race politics in a tacky attempt to restore its political fortunes. Ugggh!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alert & Alarmed - Home of Nelson Mandela bans Dalai Lama

The Age reports South Africa has been accused of kow-towing to China after banning the Dalai Lama from a Nobel laureates peace conference in Johannesburg.

Again, another example of China bullying client states to accept its world view and conform to its distorted take on Tibet.

Addressing local media, Bishop Tutu said: "We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed."

Surprise, surprise, it appears all is not well in the bird's nest. An article in the Epoch Times reports: "Communism is breaking down from the inside. The CCP will send out soldiers to stabilize its frontiers, while its core crumbles. The world saw the Soviet Union and Eastern Block collapse overnight. For China, it’s not a matter of if, but when. The sands in the hour glass wait for no one."

Increasingly desperate actions within and without are indicators of a body politic with a terminal canker. History has shown that economic achievements tend to be Pyrrhic if not accompanied by civil rights and individual freedoms.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Human rights in Australia - An open letter to Senator Fielding on 'alcopops' and subversion of majority mandate

Dear Senator

Your wrong-headedness on this issue is staggering. On the basis of not getting your way on ‘cultural change’, you are prepared to block what appears to be a win/win for families battling the dangers of binge drinking. Tax on ‘alcopops’ is one important component of a suite of instruments to reduce alcohol abuse by young people. Increased tax on cigarettes has been an exemplary case in point. Improved government revenue resulting from this tax is beneficial at a time of reduced tax receipts, enabling government to pursue social wage improvements across the board.

The people of Victoria must be sorely tired of your grand-standing on such issues and will doubtless remove you from Parliament at the next opportunity. In the meantime, you may wish to consider your political legacy. You did the right thing in passing the stimulus package. I would like you to consider what a frivolous subversion of majority mandate on the basis of a pathetic ‘look at me’ stance can mean for our body politic at this time of economic insecurity. At the minute you look like standing up for big distillers under the smoke screen of confected outrage on specious grounds!

Watch this intellectual giant at work!

Human Rights in China: Tibet update and plea to join Desmond Tutu in taking action!

The past week has been extraordinary for Tibetans, and we should all be humbled and inspired by the courage and resilience of the movement inside Tibet. Despite the oppressive Chinese security presence across the Tibetan plateau, Tibetans have made their voices heard. From the quiet and determined non-celebration of this year’s Losar to those who braved arrest and detention with peaceful protests, it is evident that this movement is strong and will continue to move forward.

Throughout the free world, Tibetans and their supporters made sure that the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet were appropriately observed. In the United States, President Obama expressed his hope to the visiting Chinese foreign minister that there would be progress in the dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

On March 11, President Obama also signed an omnibus appropriations bill that included a dozen provisions on Tibet, most notably one funding a Tibet Section in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing until the Chinese government allows a U.S. Consulate in Lhasa to be established.

Secretary Clinton also pressed Foreign Minister Yang on Tibet and for improvements in the human rights situation, and the State Department issued an official statement on the 50th anniversary urging China “to reconsider its policies in Tibet that have created tensions due to their harmful impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.”

The Tibet Lobby Days organized by ICT on March 9 and 10 were a great success. Nearly 100 Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters from 25 states fanned out over Capitol Hill, visiting 96 offices with a message of gratitude and an appeal for continued support.

ICT Board Chairman Richard Gere joined the lobbying effort and hosted a reception where Speaker Pelosi and Representatives Lowey and Ros-Lehtinen addressed hundreds of friends of Tibet, including those from the Obama Administration and Congress. Their comments were carried live on CNN.

The next day, in spite of stern warning issued by the Chinese government to “stop pushing the bill on Tibet,” the U.S. House of Representatives voted 422 to 1 in support of a resolution that calls on the Chinese government to respond to His Holiness’ initiatives to find a solution for Tibet and recognizes the Indian government and people for their generosity.

In this update you can sign a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu in support of the Dalai Lama, read the latest Human Rights Watch report and find out how to raise funds for ATC through the Trek for Tibet. Click here to view the web version of this email.

TAKE ACTION: Add your name to Desmond Tutu's letter
Nobel Peace Prize winners, human rights activists and celebrities are urging China to "stop naming, blaming and verbally abusing" the Dalai Lama. They have signed a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressing concern at the deterioration of the human rights situation in Tibet, and the apparent breakdown of talks between the Chinese government and emissaries of the Dalai Lama.

Read more and add your name to Archbishop Tutu's letter.

Human rights in Africa - Pope continues absurd opposition to better health outcomes

Courtesy of Larvatus Prodeo

An analytical piece on this ongoing scandal can be read in the Guardian

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Alert & Alarmed - "Insiders" perseveres with right- wing pamphleteers!

Yet again, I have had cause to share a thought with the Insiders program, which can be enlightening from time to time:

"Gerard (nobody knows how clever I am) Henderson topped himself this morning. This man has taken the art of the permanently credulous to new heights. His self-righteous defence of unfair dismissal laws had me reaching for the oxygen. Right, so, in a climate when job security is increasingly tenuous, a Labor govt with a rolled gold mandate to secure the entitlements of workers, should be signing up to a regime that further atomizes workers and weakens their rights. This guy is such an unreconstructed ideologue he comes across as a goose. His naked contempt for the articulate and balanced female journos on today's show was obvious. It beggars belief that Fairfax continue with him as a columnist. However, when you take a glance at some of the other stellar performers at the SMH, it is little wonder sales are down. I pity his employees if they get on the wrong side of him."

Between GH and those bastions of inclusiveness and social justice, Andrew Bolt & Piers Ackermann, the intellectual tone of this show plummets from time to time under the weight of their tortuous twaddle.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Human Rights in Australia - a lot yet to be done for refugees

The ACT Refugee Action Committee has recently updated what is happening to asylum seekers since September 2008. Although the situation of refugees has improved immeasurably under the Rudd Govt, major areas of concern remain!

What is Happening to Asylum Seekers arriving by boat since September 2008 ?

1. Eight Boats of asylum seekers were intercepted off the coast of north and West Australia since September 2008. The 2008 total of unauthorised arrivals was 164 which was slightly up on the 2007 figures.

2. There were also other attempts by Afghani and Burmese refugees to leave Indonesian detention centres and come to Australia. Four are reported to have drowned. Refugee activists are urging the Australian government to pressure Indonesia for better treatment of refugees. Recent reports illustrate Indonesia’s poor record of human rights in regard to refugees.

3. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees regional head Rick Towle said that it was important to keep a sense of perspective about the numbers of boat people arriving in Australia, compared with countries such as Italy, where thousands had landed over the same period. He said that it was no accident that most of the asylum-seekers were coming from Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan -- countries battered by years of bloody warfare and insecurity

4. Recently the Australian government has prosecuted some of the people smugglers who have received prison sentences.

5. The first group of 28 Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers to be processed at Christmas Island under the Rudd Government's new migration policies were granted permanent protection visas and were settled in South Australia in January. They were granted the visas after showing they had a well-founded fear of persecution or death if forced to return home. Ten children are among the group of 26 males and two females, which arrived in three boats, including one intercepted on September 29, the first boatload of asylum-seekers detected in Australian waters since the Rudd Government was elected. Later in January 10 more were granted visas while over 100 asylum seekers remain on Christmas Island.

6. All have been given legal support to prepare their appeals and from all reports staff and management attitudes and services provided are an improvement on what happened in the past in Baxter and other detention centres.

7. The isolation of Christmas Island is still a great concern. It also costs $32m to run each year.

8. The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is urging the Government to consider supervised release and bail requirements as alternatives to immigration detention. The IDC has appeared before Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Migration to discuss its proposals.

9. Concern is mounting for the welfare of 20 children in immigration detention at Christmas Island without their parents, with human rights groups warning Australia is breaching international obligations. "You have a situation where the minister is both the guardian and the jailer," Professor Mary Crock, a specialist in immigration law, said. Children are still being held in immigration detention facilities for unacceptable periods, Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes says. Although no longer kept behind razor wire in high-security detention centres, they are still detained in low-security facilities where their movement is restricted and monitored.

10. The Australian Human Rights Commission says asylum seekers are still being treated like political footballs and enduring "miserable" conditions at some immigration detention centres. The commission's latest report on immigration detention again calls for the new Christmas Island centre to close and parts of the Villawood centre in Sydney to be demolished.

11. The ageing and cramped Villawood detention centre will be knocked down, with a new facility to be built on Commonwealth land either close to the existing site or the airport.

12. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has signed a 5 year health services contract with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS). This will ensure all persons detained in Australian immigration detention centres will receive physical, mental, and dental health services. The contract's specifications mean that those detained in Australian immigration detention centres will receive care comparable to that of the Australian community and will be to international standards.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tibet is a living hell - 50 years of suffering and endurance

Armed riot police confront Drepung monks on March 10, 2008, after monks began an orderly march to Lhasa to protest about restrictions on religious freedom. The protest began a wave of dissent that swept the plateau. The whereabouts of many monks from Drepung is not known.

Today, Tibetans around the world—in Tibet and in exile—mark 50 years of suffering and extraordinary endurance.

Today, we remember the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa Uprising when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and the spontaneous demonstrations that began last March across the Tibetan plateau.

Reports of peaceful protests and harsh response from Chinese authorities continue to reach us. Last Thursday, two young Tibetan women were detained in Kardze, following a protest. The two women, a nun and layperson, handed out leaflets and called for the return of the Dalai Lama, respect for Tibetans’ human rights, and religious freedom. The women were detained and their whereabouts remain unknown.

For the latest news and updates about the developing situation inside Tibet, please visit ICT’s website.

Imagine living in constant fear of the authorities finding out about your religious and political views—and possibly being detained and tortured because of them.

Now multiply that by the cold, harsh facts over the past 50 years:

Tens of thousands killed

Hundreds of thousands imprisoned

Over 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples, pillaged and destroyed
Last year alone, thousands more Tibetans disappeared or were imprisoned, and more destruction was directed against monasteries and precious religious objects.

The free Tibet movement needs your support now to help the people of Tibet, and to help protect their unique heritage and culture. Contact the Australia Tibet Council for more information.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Global human rights - 'trickle down' and other obscenities

As the world's economic commentators pontificate on the rights and wrongs of speculative trading in fancy debt products such as collateralized debt obligations, it strikes me that a significant paradigm shift is in the air.

Some mega-rich financiers and neo-conservative economists are appalled by government interventions in the market, expecting the unsuccessful players to go bankrupt, never mind the collateral damage that might wreak. Whilst it is easy to be swayed by this 'survival of the fittest' mindset, especially as it applies to egregious corporate executives who have farmed their wealth from dodgy speculations and self-serving short term credit strategies, the 'better to burn out than fade away' nostrum that works for US marines may not be the right prescription for these times. If the AIGs and CitiGroups of this world collapse in a smoking heap what will be the consequences for struggling working people and the poor? Many of the commentators just don't care about these groups.

Trickle down economics has been with us for several decades. As the middle classes in developed (and recently in developing) countries expanded, the moral bankruptcy of this stratagem has been veiled. The parallel realities which the aspiring 'player' classes and the legions of poor inhabit do not overlap in meaningful ways. In some countries the poor do not register on the human development index. They have dropped off the statisticians’ radar. They leave so little evidence of their daily struggle to exist.

As the industrial developed world and its middle class aspirants in developing economies such as China and India got richer, the poor in developing regions retreated into ever more grinding poverty. The spatial reality of third world urban landscapes symbolizes this cruel dichotomy more starkly than most city-scapes in the West (although examples from the US rust and cotton belts and inner-city ghettos must be writ large).

Dominant elites in developing countries tread the familiar track of comfortable jobs, serviced environs, nice houses, mod cons and domestic help. Behind this facade the poor make their way, as they always have, along rough tracks out of sight of comfortable residential enclaves, across barrens into slums and shanty towns. Their circumstances are getting worse and their story is repeated over and over again in the post-colonial world. The vast majority are either underemployed or unemployed, barely eking a living in market economies that have left them behind, housed cheek by jowl in squalid conditions with little or no services or amenities. Alternatively, they are part of the legions of rural poor, living hand to mouth on marginal land or with no land at all.

Let me put my cards on the table. Except in special circumstances, I don't like charity aid, which is a populist form of 'trickle down' to salve the collective social conscience. Intense media coverage of natural disasters invariably leads to a rush of charitable dollars and material aid, while less publicized structural poverty is largely ignored. In emergency situations this type of charity can have an immediate effect but it rarely leads to lasting change. In Western countries the line that money spent on overseas aid would be better spent at home is a common refrain heard across the political spectrum, while countless millions of people are on the edge of starvation or disease because their own domestic elites and international power brokers lack the will to redistribute resources to meet their basic human needs.

When so much aid is charity based it is little wonder that well-meaning middle class families get drawn into schemes run by religious groups utilizing manipulative media techniques. Many of these schemes do not address the underpinning structural circumstances of poverty but use aid to proselytize religious beliefs and leverage undue influence over vulnerable communities. Individual donors get vicarious comfort from the notion that someone is doing something, somewhere, for the poor, but it is typically at arm’s length and detached from the grinding reality of those in need.

The score card was bleak and going backwards. A sense of superiority pervaded the relationships of the developed and developing worlds. The hectoring of client states to conform to the West's security and governance templates became strident during the Bush years. Economic clout is used to bully weaker countries into accepting interference in their domestic affairs. Aid is provided to repressive regimes to shore up trade interests. Aid became more politicized and compromised as a means to strengthen relations with partner countries.

Now, the global economic crisis will see some serious questioning of the dominant paradigm that brought us to this precipice. Those that suggest the market driven global greed fest might not have been the best way forward for the planet may now do so without being labeled neo-Marxists, social misfits, or, just mad.

All is far from lost if notions that we engage the economically weak in our own society and in other cultures from a position of superiority can be put aside. In Australia we can wallow in the illusion that our resource base, acquired through colonial imperialism, and our institutional inheritance imbues us with greater wisdom and understanding of the human condition, and seek to project our 'superiority', but we will have missed a great opportunity to be chart makers and bridge builders in a fourth world, where the constructs of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ no longer apply.

A fourth world would celebrate cultural difference; the dignity and worth of all labour; and the universality of human rights. We all have a stake in peace and security. The moribund ‘polarities’ and parallel development paths of the last century, blind us to the potential of shared horizons. Let 'trickle down' be replaced by notions of a fair redistribution of wealth and resources and the forging of real partnerships underpinned by mutual respect, joint security and genuine global community.