4 March 2014


Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was again in the spotlight following the violent death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati after protests on Manus Island escalated into violence involving guards, local contractors and asylum seekers which also resulted in injuries to 77 other detainees.

Events prompted more than 750 "light the dark” vigils across Australia in protest at Australian immigration policies.

Even before these latest events, there has been widespread condemnation of the policy voiced by Australian church leaders , the Australian Human Rights Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which following two visits by a UNHCR Team to the detention centre on Manus Island, has concluded on both occasions, that arrangements do not meet international protection standards for the reception and treatment of asylum-seekers. These visits followed an earlier United Nations assessment that found Australia guilty of almost 150 violations of international law for indefinitely detaining refugees.

Catholic Religious Australia - the peak body representing Religious Congregations in Australia has for this lenten season invited participation in a ‘National Lament’ campaign of prayer, penance and action for people seeking asylum in Australia.

Edmund Rice International will deliver an oral statement on this issue during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. (the statement will appear under 'ERI statements' when finalised and delivered later this month)

The cruelty and inhumanity of the policy together with the hypocrisy of the current minister are clearly articulated in this letter to the minister for immigration and border protection.


“Equality for women means progress for all" is the theme of International Women’s Day on March 8th. In his message to mark the day UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon noted that “countries with more gender equality have better economic growth, companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable and Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support”.

Since their adoption more than 13 years ago, significant and substantial progress has been made in meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals, including visible improvements in all health areas as well as primary education, and halving the number of people living in extreme poverty. However, progress is uneven, particularly for women and girls.

See here for a detailed progress report on how women and girls are faring in progress towards each Millennium Development Goal.


Diplomats preparing for the 25th United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva have expressed concern Australia is working to ''actively undermine'' a push for an international inquiry into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, because of the government's eagerness to co-operate with that country's leaders on asylum seekers according to media reports.

The US is likely to sponsor a resolution at the meeting criticising Sri Lanka's human rights record, and there have been reports it could call for an international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the dying days of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

Meanwhile 205 Tamil Christian clergy from the north and east of Sri Lanka have bravely addressed an open letter to the UN Human Rights Council appealing for an international investigation into Sri Lanka that will address past and current human rights violations.

The letter notes that some of the signatories have previously engaged with governmental bodies and Commissions of Inquiries established by the Sri Lankan government, none of which have resulted in any progress towards truth and justice, on the contrary the participants have been interrogated, threatened and intimidated.

The letter goes on to state that ‘Disappearances, sexual abuse, arrests, detention and torture under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, restrictions and attacks on freedom of assembly, expression, association and movement continue to date. Collective commemoration of dead and disappeared and religious freedom is restricted. Those who criticise, question and challenge government policies and practices, and those who engage with the international community on human rights issues, are branded as terrorist supporters / traitors. They are threatened, interrogated, intimidated by the government's security apparatus. Some of us have also been targeted in this manner. We are aware that writing this letter and engaging with the UN HRC itself can make us vulnerable to risks, and several of the more vulnerable clergy are not signing onto this, even though they agree with the contents.'
(reports of threats and intimidation against anyone who dares to criticise Sri Lanka within the UN are commonly heard in Geneva - BB)

The letter goes on to detail systematic efforts currently underway to destroy the identity of the Tamil community.

Australia continues to deny that a serious human rights problem exists in Sri Lanka presumably in order to justify its treatment of Tamil asylum seekers. Obviously Australia’s policy makers have not viewed the harrowing, award winning documentary ‘No fire Zone”  - then again perhaps they have, and just don’t care.


Illegal trading in flora and fauna is worth an estimated US$19 billion annually and includes elephant poaching, great ape theft and the illegal transport of timber.

World Wildlife Day (March 3rd) was instituted by the UN in response to the ever growing threat to many plant and animal species due to habitat loss and illicit trafficking.

In his message to mark the inaugural day this year, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon said  ‘For millennia, people and cultures have relied on nature’s rich diversity of wild plants and animals for food, clothing, medicine and spiritual sustenance. Wildlife remains integral to our future through its essential role in science, technology and recreation, as well as its place in our continued heritage’ 

It is estimated that current trends of species extinctions are between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the naturally expected levels, with elephants and rhinos being particularly at risk.

Research by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL estimates that between 50 and 90 per cent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Africa is being carried out through organised crime, threatening efforts to combat climate change, deforestation, conserve wildlife and eradicate poverty.

Whilst many governments have enacted measures to address the problem, citizens of countries across the globe have a vital role to play in shutting down the markets that sustains this illegal trade.

In addition to the illegal trade, climate change - which is linked with the burning of fossil fuels - is also impacting many animals and plants and in myriads of ways.

Polar bears in the Arctic are threatened by thinning ice, baleen whales must make longer journeys between their feeding grounds, and many migratory birds that rely on wetlands and lakes for food are increasingly facing water shortages. These changes could spell decline and even extinction for some species without an urgent transition of our economies and our lifestyles towards a low carbon economy.

Earth Hour on Sat 29th March provides an opportunity to join hundreds of millions of others around the world to demonstrate a concern for the future of our planet.

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