29 November 2013


Up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime.

Between 500,000 to 2 million people are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labour, slavery or servitude, according to estimates. Women and girls account for about 80 per cent of the detected victims.

It is estimated that more than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone Female Genital Mutilation mainly in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries.

The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion is for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.

Statistics such as these led the United Nations Secretary-General to launch a UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign in 2008, aiming to raise public awareness and increase political will and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.

The UNiTE campaign has called for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women)  to 10 December (Human Rights Day)


The latest UN sponsored conference of the parties (COP) on climate change ended in Warsaw with little apparent progress towards a new universal climate agreement due to be concluded in Paris in late 2015.

The talks were characterised by discord and acrimony but eventually under an agreement settled in the final hours of the conference, countries agreed to publish their plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 in the first quarter of 2015.

Earlier environment and development groups walked out of talks in protest at what they say is the slow speed and lack of ambition in the talks.

Australia, Canada, Japan and the US were singled out particularly for their obstruction and inaction, whilst divisions also emerged over the distinction between rich, developed countries and developing countries over their level of responsibility for the impact of climate change.

Meanwhile two newly published studies have again confirmed that the world cannot afford to wait any longer to make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The studies can be viewed here and here.


Trade Ministers from 12 countries are meeting in Singapore on December 7-9 to make decisions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Negotiations regarding the treaty have been conducted in secret for three years but some details of the agreement exposed through Wikileaks have alarmed commentators, advocacy groups and elected officials.

Concerns have been expressed that the agreement would see Australians paying more for drugs and medicines, movies, computer games and software, and be placed under surveillance as part of a US-led crackdown on internet piracy.

Some proposed investor-state dispute settlement clauses, allow foreign corporations to sue governments over health and environment laws which are seen to 'harm' their interest. It is claimed that this would affect a government’s ability to regulate in the public interest, and undermine democracy and sovereignty.

The leaked draft shows that the US and Japan oppose wording, supported by most of the other countries, that highlights the importance of "maintain[ing] a balance between the rights of intellectual property holders and the legitimate interests of users and the community".

More information about the agreement and suggestions for taking action can be found at the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network website


Asylum seekers detained offshore at Australia's behest are kept in inhumane conditions, with children treated harshly in breach of international law, United Nations inspection teams have found.

Their scathing reports found the Nauru and Manus Island centres were focused on sending asylum seekers home rather than "promoting safe, fair and humane conditions".

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visited the centres in October and recently issued reports finding that Australia's agreements with its island neighbours had left hundreds in legal limbo and with serious concerns for their mental health.

The findings paint an especially dire picture for children and survivors of torture. The Nauru inspectors met several of the 95 child detainees, who drew pictures highlighting their distress.

The inspectors found children were living in hot, humid, cramped conditions with little privacy, were not going to school and their parents held deep concerns for their mental health.

Australia's stance towards asylum seekers is in sharp contrast to the vision proposed in the ‘Affirmation of Welcome’ which was read and signed by representatives of the world’s major religions at the Religions for Peace 9th World Assembly in Vienna. The document was developed in response to the UN High Commissioner for Refugee’s recommendation for the development of guidance for faith leaders to welcome the forcibly displaced into their respective communities, and to stand together against xenophobia.

Meanwhile 138 organisations led by the Refugee Council of Australia and including 63 faith-based organisations from four major religious traditions, have written to the Australian Prime Minister calling on him to stop using the term "illegal maritime arrivals" to describe asylum seekers arriving by boat, pointing out that it is NOT illegal to seek asylum (a fact that is acknowledged by senior members of the Government). The letter is available on the website of the Refugee Council of Australia.

The experience of those risking everything their attempt to find asylum in Australia is graphically portrayed in a report from two journalists from the New York Times who recently accompanied a group of asylum seekers on their perilous journey to Australia.
(photo is taken from the NY Times article)

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