Friday, October 22, 2010

Human rights & the Afghan war debate - an alternative take!

I was casting an eye over this piece in Crikey and thought it was a fairly shallow take on the Afghan war 'debate'. Whatever the strategic rights & wrongs of our engagement this is about the American alliance, pure & simple. If you expected a clear enunciation of geo-political and military strategies from either side of the political divide you were delusional. There is bipartisan support for the alliance and neither party will muster the backbone to challenge US hegemony. So we listen endlessly to that Killcullen chappy telling us about the inner logic of 'counter-insurgency' and, basically, talk amongst ourselves.

The Abbott nonsense about civilisation conflict reprises the twaddle peddled by the neocons justifying the 'war on terror'. Like the 'war on drugs' this war will fail miserably, leaving the situation worse. As one commentator put it recently, you do not buy into the 'messianic' philosophy of al Qaeda and its off-shoots as a counter measure. You counter the message with the rule of law, good governance and community development. You emphasise soft diplomacy and human rights - you do not actively undermine the very things you purport to stand for if you don't want to be seen as hypocritical occupiers and carpet-baggers.

Only a political solution will work in Afghanistan. We are currently supporting a regime that is so corrupt I am reminded of US support for a series of corrupt leaders in South Vietnam as a precursor to defeat in that disastrous war. They ran the country as a personal fiefdom to be plundered by themselves and their client cronies. The Karzai family are doing the same thing. The only way to counter the taliban is through genuine democracy, good governance across all areas of public administration, emphasis on civil society and a fair & equitable distribution of resources. This is not rocket science. The current disproportional division of military and civil assistance of 9:1 needs to be reversed. And we need to stop playing footsies with corruption.

Legitimacy is everything in the struggle for hearts and minds. Can anyone honestly say that Karzai has earnt legitimacy? The taliban support the violent overthrow of his corrupt and thoroughly compromised regime. Meanwhile, he steals elections and is at the peak of a regime that tolerates systematic looting and pilfering of public monies.

When visiting Kenya in 2006, Obama said the following: "Ethnic-based tribal politics has to stop. It is rooted in the bankrupt idea that the goal of politics or business is to funnel as much of the pie as possible to one's family, tribe, or circle with little regard for the public good. It stifles innovation and fractures the fabric of the society...It divides neighbour from neighbour".

This insight could apply equally to Afghanistan. If you can address these issues you have the best hope of counter-insurgency!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Asylum seekers in Australia - children out of detention

In a good first step, the Australian govt has announced changes to the detention regime that will see children released with their carers. Much of the overall approach remains punitive in nature but the ongoing violation of the rights of children was untenable for a western democracy.

Newspapers across the land, including the SMH, has reported the changes positively. However, Amnesty and others have criticised the failure to grasp the nettle and do away with mandatory detention. The AI spokesperson lamented, "As AI has highlighted time and again, Australia is the only country to mandatorily (sic) detain asylum seekers in this reaffirming its commitment to the policy, the government is failing to acknowledge that this system is not working."

As I have proffered previously, Australia must model best practice in this area, ensuring the provisions of international legal instruments and human rights conventions are followed to the letter. This can be a win/win for asylum seekers, the respective processing authorities, and the countries in the firing line. Opening a regional dialogue and developing a well-resourced multilateral approach, empowering all parties with a stake in a solution to this growing human crisis, would be a good start.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Children out of Detention - a campaign renewed

I have received a message that Chilout is reprising its campaign to get and keep children out of immigration detention. Following is part of the message:

ChilOut was a volunteer group campaigning from 2001 to 2006 on behalf of children in immigration detention. They wound down their campaign after the amendment was written into the Migration Act that "Children should be detained as a measure of last resort." At the same time, children were removed from the main immigration detention centres (IDCs) and put out into the community either on bridging visas or residence determinations. The only children held in any form of secure facility - residential housing - were those whose parents were a proven security or flight risk. This was not a radical left agenda. It was done by the Howard government.

The sad fact is that right now 618 children are being held in detention facilities - of the 628 in the immigration detention regime, only 10 are in the community under residence determinations. If you read the very small footnotes in the Immigration department detention statistics summary, you will see that this is the only form of detention where the person does not have to be accompanied at all times by a designated person i.e. under guard going to and from school....

Many children have not left their place of detention in months. While it was laudable that the ALP policy was to remove children from IDCs - the main detention centres - the result has been that kids are now held for long periods in places that do not have anything close to adequate facilities. At least the IDCs were purpose built to house people for long periods and have recreational and educational facilities. Places such as the Darwin Asti Motel are cramped, with only a cement carpark for children to play in. 150 afghan boys held in the Darwin Lodge have not been outside since April. Dr Louise Newman, an adviser to Government on immigration detention issues, has stated that in some cases, detention centres are actually better than the alternatives currently being used for children.

Sadly, ChilOut has had to resume our campaign in light of so many kids being held in immigration detention facilities in unacceptable conditions that are a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When we ended our first campaign, there was overwhelming support from the Australian community to ensure that children were not being detained. When we closed up shop, members of our group were drained - emotionally, physically and financially.

But there is no way we are going to stand by and watch this happen again. Not in our name, not in our country. No way. We will not allow our government to damage and traumatize another round of vulnerable children who fled to us with arms outstretched, seeking safety and protection.

The first time around we were just simple middle-class mums and dads who thought a couple of letters to the papers would solve the issue. After a 5 year hard-fought struggle we are seasoned campaigners, polished media performers and savvy political operatives. And we are mad as hell that we have to do this all over again.

For more information or to join the campaign, go to

Monday, October 11, 2010

Asylum seekers in Australia - Chris Bowen addresses migration in his new role as Minister

Embrace Australia reports, "in his first major public address as Minister for Immigration & Citizenship, Chris Bowen spoke of the importance of immigration and multiculturalism to Australia “Immigration is central to the fabric of our nation, with around two in five Australians born overseas, or with a parent who was born overseas. I’m one of them. My father’s family – the Bowens – migrated to Australia from Wales in the 1860s to mine coal. My mother came here 100 years later – in the 1960s – as a self-described ‘ten pound tourist’. So I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Australia’s migration program”

Bowen also advocated Australia adopting a “middle position” on asylum seekers and boat people “we must comply with our refugee convention obligations but that we must have as orderly and fair process as possible, that we must rigorously check claims for asylum – will not be popular with either side of a polarised debate. But it is the only sustainable policy. Sound grabs are presented as simple solutions in this debate. The cheap talk of ‘turning the boats back’ comes easily but doesn’t mean much. Sound policy takes more thought”

Bowen added that a regional processing centre would only succeed within a regional framework “A Regional Protection Framework, in line with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) principles, and is a mechanism to bring more fairness to the treatment of asylum seekers while removing the incentive for people to undertake dangerous journeys by boat”

Bowen was giving the keynote address at the opening of the Migration 2010 Conference in Sydney.

This all sounds sensible in theory. This blog has argued for a regional framework for years. It worked in the case of the Vietnamese refugees, many of who came by boat. However, in the absence of bipartisanship on this subject every step toward a solution that protects human rights and meets national security imperatives is muddied and trivialised for political gain. Until there is a quantum of maturity and sophistication brought to the contest of ideas on this subject, asylum seekers will continue to be kicked from pillar to post in a tawdry political game.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010