4 March 2011


In the wake of ever more dire warnings from the scientific community about the threat to life on our planet as a result of climate change, Edmund Rice International has added its voice to the call from a group of twenty-five NGO’s for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on climate change and its impact on human rights to be included in the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

The call links what Gro Harlen Brundtland, the Special Envoy on Climate Change for the UN Secretary-General has called in an article appearing on the World Resources Institute website, the two defining challenges of this century: climate change and poverty.

In the meantime Australia’s first faltering steps away from the use of fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources seems destined to be mired in political controversy with the Opposition announcing that it will repeal the proposed carbon tax if elected to government.

Unfortunately Australia still suffers from a severe lack of political leadership on this issue, with too many politicians exploiting the self-interest of the electorate to try and ensure their own re-election rather than looking to the common good.


The western world is largely ignorant of the horrific scale of the violence, and the grave consequences of the conflict in Congo. It rarely features in our media.

Yet the conflict in eastern Congo is fueled by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals that go into our electronic products. Over five million people have died as a result, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped over the past decade. The armed groups perpetuating the violence generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year by trading in four main minerals, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. This money enables the militias to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians, with some of the worst abuses occurring in mining areas.

The majority of these minerals eventually wind up in electronic devices such as cell phones, portable music players, and computers. Given the lack of a transparent minerals supply chain, consumers have no way to ensure that their purchases are not financing armed groups that regularly commit atrocities, including mass rape.

RAISE Hope for Congo aims to build a constituency of activists who will advocate for the protection and empowerment of Congolese women and girls.

As part of the Enough campaign, twenty-one of the world’s largest electronics companies have been surveyed and ranked according to their progress towards ensuring a conflict-free supply chain and a conflict-free mining sector in Congo. The Conflict–Minerals ranking for each company can be found here


There has been some success in reducing global poverty levels. The number of people living on less than $1.25 a day in developing countries declined from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion between 1981 and 2005 and the proportion of people living in extreme poverty dropped from 52.0 to 25.7 per cent during the same period and it is predicted that at the global level the first target of the Millennium Development Goals will be met.

Nevertheless the absolute number of people living in poverty has gone up in several regions including Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia totalling 1 billion people who are living in extreme poverty. In fact, today’s poverty situation is even more serious if we consider its wider definition.

As recent report of United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) points out poverty is not simply a lack of adequate income it is the deprivation of one’s ability to live as a free and dignified human being with the full potential to achieve one’s desired goals in life.

DESA has put forward what it believes is a more accurate measure of poverty which takes into account those vulnerable households that move above and below the poverty line as their circumstances and fortunes fluctuate as well as deprivations in health care, education and living standards.

The new index estimates that about 1.7 billion people live in multi-dimensional poverty while 1.3 billion are suffering from income poverty. This shows that even though countries might have succeeded at reducing income poverty, they are still unable to ensure access to education, health care and food.

Reducing poverty requires sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth. Unfortunately, recent economic changes have resulted in higher unemployment rates thus removing an important pathway out of poverty and in addition conflict, weather-related disasters and other impacts of climate change adversely impact on economic growth.

The achievement of the MDG’s depends on co-operation between national governments and civil society. In the Australian context it is disappointing therefore that the leader of the Opposition would urge a reduction in the level of Australia’s Overseas Aid (already below its agreed commitment of 0.7% of GDP) as an alternative to the modest levy proposed by the government to fund reconstruction following the recent disastrous floods.


The day following Australia Day (Jan 26th), Australia faced the Human Rights Council in Geneva on its record on human rights, as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

This was a historic occasion, the first time Australia had entered into dialogue with its peers in the United Nations on its overall respect for human rights. Over 54 nations joined in the 3-hour discussion, each limited to two minutes; the Australian delegation had four opportunities to respond and comment.

ERI, together with Franciscans International and Marist Brothers International (FMSI), had made a submission to the Review, and lobbied specific countries on these issues, that came from the grassroots workers in the Edmund Rice Network. We were delighted to hear recommendations that echoed our concerns being put to Australia by various countries. The rights of Indigenous Australians and those seeking refugee status or asylum in Australia (the first and last peoples) were frequently promoted, in fact by nearly all the countries that spoke.

Australia will announce a decision about which of the one hundred and forty five recommendations it will accept in June, but it has already promised to set up an online database of the recommendations, and has said it will use them in forming its Human Rights Action Plan. Over the next four years, ERI will monitor how grassroots situations improve for those whose rights we are defending.

A full set of the documentation for the UPR of each country (including ERI’s submission), together with a full webcast of the proceedings can be accessed through the UNHCHR website.

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