6 March 2008


Reversing yet another policy of the previous administration, the newly–elected Australian government has indicated that it will move to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture

That leaves China, Iran, Iraq and the United States as the most prominent countries yet to sign and ratify the Convention.

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is an international human rights instrument, under the purview of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture around the world.

The Convention advises states to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured.

Under the Optional Protocol, member countries are subject to international and national visits to places like prisons and immigration detention centres.

The Australian government was urged to take this step by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the move has been widely welcomed by human rights groups sauch as Amnesty both within Australia and abroad.


Traditionally the approaching Easter season is associated with the consumption of chocolate. Most of us who enjoy this indulgence however are probably unaware that the world's largest cocoa producers - the Ivory Coast and Ghana - have been found guilty by the United Nations and US Congress of exporting cocoa made by trafficked and enslaved children.

For example in the Ivory Coast which produces 43% of the world’s cocoa It is estimated more than 100,000 children work under "the worst forms of child labor," and that about 10,000 are slaves.

The Australian Fair Trade Association and welfare organisations such as World Vision are helping promote awareness and action around issues of fair trade.

For more background information about the chocolate and cocoa industry visit the website of St Columbans Mission Society


On March 29th, 2008 at 8pm local time Earth Hour will commence all around the world.

Created to respond to this serious threat to our planet, Earth Hour uses the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a message about the need for action on global warming.

Last year, on 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney (Australia) businesses turned off their lights for one hour – Earth Hour. This massive collective effort reduced Sydney’s energy consumption by 10.2% for one hour, which is the equivalent effect of taking 48,000 cars off the road for one hour.

With Sydney icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House turning their lights off, and unique events such as weddings by candlelight, the world took notice. Inspired by the collective effort of millions of Sydneysiders, many major global cities including Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Chicago, Christchurch, Dublin, Melbourne, Perth and Vancouver (cities where the Edmund Rice Network has an official presence), are joining Earth Hour in 2008, thus turning a symbolic event into a global movement.

You can pledge your support for Earth Hour and find out more about the lights-out campaign at the above website.

5 March 2008


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the opening of the seventh session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 3rd.

In his speech the Secretary General urged the Council to spur greater accountability for action on human rights now that the transition from the previous Commission on Human Rights was complete

He particularly affirmed the system of independent special procedures "your vanguard mechanisms for early detection of problematic human rights situations and sustained protection” and noted that the system was essential to the proper functioning of the Council.

"Special Procedures” is the general name given to the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations (eg Myanamar) or thematic issues (eg trafficking in persons) in all parts of the world. Currently there are 28 thematic and 10 country mandates led by an independent special rapporteur or a working group appointed by the council.

Direct contact with a rapporteur or mandate holder is one of the most effective ways in which individuals or NGO’s such as Edmund Rice International (ERI) can address issues of human rights in particular countries.

Ban-Ki-moon went on to note that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism was “a historic undertaking, with significant consequences for people around the globe. It must help ensure… that nations are accountable for progress, stagnation or regression in implementation of human rights standards.”

The UPR mechanism is the system whereby each of the 192 member states of the UN are examined every four years in regard to the fulfilment of its human rights obligations and commitments.

NGO’s are an integral part of the UPR mechanism and participation in the process will provide another important opportunity for ERI to be effective.

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