23 February 2009


The world is warming far more quickly than scientists forecast just two years ago according to Professor Chris Field a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in an address to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, an international body for the engineering industry, warned that countries must begin adapting to the effects of climate change as a matter of urgency or face serious effects from global warming.

"Water and sewage infrastructure, the electricity network and transport were all at risk from the effects of climate change, including floods, droughts and severe storms," said Tim Fox, head of environment and climate change at the IMechE "but if governments leave adaptation measures – ranging from flood defences to changing the design of buildings – for too long, then it will become impossible to put them in place in time to protect vital national infrastructure."

However whilst there was optimism at the AAAS meeting – based on the professed determination of the new US administration to promote effective action, both in its domestic energy policies and in taking a lead in international climate change negotiations, concerns continue to be expressed about the level of commitment of Australia’s major political parties to addressing the issue of climate change.

This is even in the wake of the recent bushfires in Victoria whose intensity and extent have been attributed to the effects of climate change by the Climate Institute in a report endorsed by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)


Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, produce half of the world's food, and yet earn only 10% of the world's income and own less than 1% of the world's property.

Of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty around the world, 70% are women.

Women do about 66% of the world's work in return for less than 5% of its income.

In the least developed countries Nearly twice as many women over age 15 are illiterate compared to men.

Two-thirds of children denied primary education are girls, and 75% of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women.

The above statistics (taken from the Millennium Campaign website highlight the injustice experienced by women and illustrate why the Millennium Development Goals specifically address some women’s issues.

Each year around the world, International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 to highlight the economic, political and social achievements of women.

IWD each year also draws attention to a particular issue through a choice of theme for the day. The United Nations theme in 2009 is "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls"

According to Amnesty International violence against women is the most widespread human rights abuse in the world. Every day, thousands of women and girls are abused in their own homes, raped in armed conflicts, murdered by their families, attacked for speaking up and defending women's rights.

Amnesty has a "stop violence campaign against women" on the above website.


The UN is determined to stamp out use of child soldiers, 'one of world's most appalling human rights abuses', said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the 'Red Hand Day' event held in New York earlier this month.

"The forced recruitment and use of child soldiers is one of the most appalling human rights abuses in the world today. Many thousands of children are being exploited. Every day, they are compelled to endure and inflict violence that no child should ever have to experience." he said.

"This is unacceptable. The recruitment and use of children in warfare violates international law. It also violates our most basic standards of human decency. The entire United Nations system and I are determined to stamp out such abuse." he added.

He went on to point out that whilst 126 United Nations Member States have now ratified the the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which came into force seven years ago all too often these legal obligations have been ignored.

Further information is available from The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers which works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilisation and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.


Despite the recent formation of an uneasy coalition government in Zimbabwe, concerns continue for the well-being of human rights defenders such as Jestina Mukoko who was abducted from her home by security forces in November.

Few observers express any confidence that the power sharing agreement between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai will last let alone bring any measure of justice to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.

For close to two months Jestina was missing, with the police flatly denying holding her or having any knowledge as to her whereabouts. She only resurfaced thanks to intense international and local pressure on the government of Zimbabwe from ordinary people outraged by her treatment.

She has still not been charged with any offence yet continues to be held in a maximum security prison.

Since then a story of beatings, torture and abuse while in secret detention has emerged, with until recently, the police continuing to deny her access to medical care.

As Zimbabwe Peace Project's Director, Jestina worked hard to advance the cause of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. She spoke for many who were voiceless.

She is but one example among many, of a person who is paying the price for taking a stand against an oppressive government. Such people deserve our support.

You can take action to support Jestina Mukoko by visiting the Africa Action website.

9 February 2009


Whilst it is not possible to link single extreme weather events such as those that led to the current bushfires in Australia to a change in the climate, it can be argued that such events fit a pattern and are a further reminder of the urgent need to address climate change.

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming is occurring, and it is almost certainly the result of human activity. (see the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Whilst governments around the world are beginning to respond to the issue, again the consensus would be that the measures proposed so far are a case of "far too little, far too late".

As the major contributors to global warming, the economically developed western countries together with the rapidly developing countries with large populations such as China and India, have the particular responsibility to rethink their patterns of energy production and use.

The promotion of alternatives to using fossil fuels (eg coal) for the generation of electricity such as Concentrated Solar Power and for transport (eg oil) such as the electric car is the responsibility of governments. However often governments are more interested in their own survival than in providing visionary leadership so the voice of informed public opinion is crucial to bringing about change.

A simple public campaign in Australia to encourage the installation of solar panels can currently be found at the Cool the Globe website.


The so-called "war on terror" has led to an erosion of a whole host of human rights. States are resorting to practices which have long been prohibited by international law, and have sought to justify them in the name of national security.

Within his first two days in office, US President Barack Obama signed executive orders to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay within one year; suspend trials by military commission; close all CIA secret detention centres and ban the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques that amount to torture and other ill-treatment.

These steps have been welcomed by Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International as important first steps whilst pointing out that more needs to be done.

The above website provides an opportunity to send a message of encouragement to President Obama to implement a checklist of seventeen challenges during his first 100 days of his term of office.


Cluster bombs have killed and injured thousands of civilians during the last 40 years and continue to do so today. They cause widespread harm on impact and yet remain dangerous, killing and injuring civilians long after a conflict has ended. Cluster munitions are large weapons which are deployed from the air and from the ground and release dozens or hundreds of smaller sub-munitions.

Their widespread dispersal means they cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians so the humanitarian impact can be extreme, especially when the weapon is used in or near populated areas.

Many sub-munitions fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the cessation of hostilities. One third of all recorded cluster munitions casualties are children. 60% of cluster bomb casualties are injured while undertaking their normal activities.

A new international treaty banning cluster munitions opened for signing in December and so far 94 nations have signed the treaty, which bans cluster munitions outright and provides strong humanitarian provisions for their cleanup and assistance to victims.

Four states, Ireland, Norway, Sierra Leone, the Vatican have already moved to the next stage which is to ratify the treaty. This Convention on Cluster Munitions will become binding international law six months after 30 signatories have ratified it.

The Cluster Munitions Coalition, which includes Human Rights Watch has instigated an online global petition calling on all governments to ratify the Convention. The website also enables individuals to determine the current status of their government’s response to the treaty and if necessary to urge its signing, ratification and implementation.


As the 2009 World Social Forum opened in Belem, Brazil, co-founder and Catholic activist, Chico Whitaker, told a forum on liberation and theology that the global economic crisis was also an opportunity "to build another world".

"At this forum it is clear that it is really possible to have another world, and not just possible, but urgent and necessary" he said.

The World Social Forum (WSF) was created to facilitate dialogue between peoples and generate practical actions to improve the planet. People of all nations, continents and cultures converge their hopes and struggles in the WSF and reaffirm that another world is possible!

More than 100,000 people from 150 countries attended the 2009 gathering that met in Belem in northeast Brazil from January 27 to February 1, according to a report published in Ekklesia

Belem was chosen as the location of this year's social forum to symbolise the importance of climate and environmental issues, as well as the rights of minority cultures.

Environmentalists have warned for years about the continued deforestation of the Amazonian region, noted for its biological diversity, and where many of its inhabitants are indigenous peoples.

"In Chinese, the word for crisis means a risk and an opportunity," said Whitaker, who was addressing a World Forum on Theology and Liberation held in Belem in advance of the WSF. "The ones in Davos are facing the risk of seeing their system go down the drain. We in Belem have a moment of opportunity."

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