6 August 2010


There are over 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries, living in all regions of the world. The situation of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world is critical today. Poverty rates are significantly higher among indigenous peoples compared to other groups. While they constitute 5 per cent of the world's population, they are 15 per cent of the world's poor.

Each year on Aug 9th the international community marks International Day of Worlds Indigenous Peoples

The Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness of indigenous peoples' cultures and the great diversity that they represent. It is also an occasion to redouble efforts to address issues of exclusion, discrimination and poverty that are still the daily reality for many of these peoples.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reports regularly on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples drawing attention to the discrimination and exclusion they frequently experience.

The disadvantage suffered by indigenous people was highlighted in the recent statement by James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous people, following his visit to New Zealand. The Special Rapporteur made reference to "troubling" inequalities persisting between Maori and non-Maori, and urged New Zealand to press ahead with efforts to improve the human rights of its indigenous people.

While acknowledging that the country has made efforts to address ongoing challenges on the issue, and had reversed its initial opposition to the endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People he went on to say "I cannot help but note the extreme disadvantage in the social and economic conditions of Maori people, which are dramatically manifested in the continued and persistent high levels of incarceration of Maori individuals"


After obtaining the ratification of the required number of nations (30) the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) came into effect on August 1st. Currently 38 countries have ratified the convention and 108 have signed it. (A signature demonstrates in-principle support for a treaty while ratification requires its incorporation into domestic law).

The CCM is an international treaty that bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions - weapons that release explosive fragments when dropped from the air, covering swaths of land with cluster munitions, sometimes known as "bomblets". Many of these dangerous items fail to explode on impact, which means that they continue to pose a threat of death or injury to civilians long after the conflict is over. For years, land is unusable for infrastructure rebuilding or farming. Even worse, these brightly colored munitions look like toys to children, who can be severely injured or killed when they handle them.

Cluster munitions were heavily used in Laos, Cambodia, Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq, where contamination still affects daily life in countless communities.

Countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland have signed and ratified the treaty, Australia has signed but not ratified and the United states has not signed the treaty.

Currently Australia's ANZ bank is being pressured to stop financing companies that produce the munitions in a campaign supported by the Uniting Church (among other groups). ANZ provides credit to the US company, Lockheed Martin, which has produced cluster munitions, and a company that makes fuses used in the bombs. The action is part of a broader international Stop Explosive Investments campaign.

More information about the issues surrounding cluster munitions can be found at the Cluster Munition Coalition website.


An estimated 214 million people currently live outside their country of origin. While for some migration is a positive and empowering experience, far too many migrants have to endure human rights violations, discrimination and exploitation.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently urged all concerned "to implement a human rights approach to migration, and to recognise the positive contributions of migrants, protect their human rights in law and practice, and facilitate their integration into host societies”

The High Commissioner went on to note that an increasing global trend to frame migration policies solely within a security and border control framework. This is exacerbated by policies which criminalise irregular migrants, and subject them to administrative detention regimes which are punitive in nature and often lack adequate safeguards. Vulnerable migrants can be detained for months and even years in immigration detention.

"The protection of migrants is an urgent and growing human rights challenge. Governments have obligations to ensure that xenophobic violence, racism and related intolerance against migrants and their communities have no place in their societies" she said.

The statement is one of several recent calls for the protection of the Human Rights of migrants issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Although the comments were not directed towards any particular country, they seem particularly relevant to Australia at a time when in the lead-up to the federal election the major parties seem intent on demonstrating a ‘tough’ stance on ‘border protection’ against asylum seekers – a trend also criticised by the Australian Catholic Bishops

Whilst Australia can be proud of its record of accepting migrants (according to statistics published in 2006 almost 25% of the Australian population was born overseas), more recently its hysterical overreaction to the relatively tiny number of asylum seekers arriving by boat and the harsh treatment directed towards them, is a source of shame and bewilderment.


The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has produced a leaflet, ‘A Vote for Social Justice’ which highlights some key justice issues for the federal election on Aug 21st.

The leaflet aims to help voters think about some issues that will be decided in the election and offers some questions that could be raised with all candidates.

Issues are discussed under the headings ‘Fostering true partnership’, ‘Making ends meet’, ‘A place to call home’, ‘Welcoming the stranger’ and ‘Care for the environment’. The leaflet is available for download on the ACSJC website

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