4 February 2016
Australia’s policy of deliberately mistreating and violating the rights of those who have sought its protection from violence and persecution, in order to deter others from seeking asylum, continues to attract widespread condemnation. Sadly it is also true that a majority of Australians continue to remain silent and indifferent to the evils being perpetrated in their name.
In the wake of a recent high court judgment, that it was lawful under the constitution and recently amended legislation, the decision to return more than 250 asylum seekers to Nauru, including babies and children, at least one of whom has been sexually abused by guards on Nauru, is the latest example in a catalogue of human rights violations carried out by Australia. (The High Court decision also ruled that the government could not create a regime of indefinite detention offshore)
The high court decisions sparked a wave of protest across Australia with churches offering to provide sanctuary for those under threat of deportation, and teachers and doctors risking imprisonment by speaking out about the likely effects of trauma on the children if returned to Nauru.
Visit the Get-Up website for more information about protest actions.
Already people who have committed no crime may be held indefinitely (some have now been in detention for 5-6 years), murdered with impunity (Reza Berati), sexually abused, and denied access to adequate health (Hamid Kehazaei) and education, where the media is effectively excluded and anyone with first-hand knowledge of what is taking place faces imprisonment for speaking out. Claims that the policy is to prevent deaths at sea ring hollow given the policy was enacted long before there were any such deaths.
In November, Australia’s human rights record was reviewed as part of the Universal Periodic Review. The review involves other countries providing recommendations to Australia about how it could improve its promotion of human rights. The country then decides how it will respond to these recommendations - whether they will 'accept' (work towards implementing them) or just note them.
In November over, 60 countries (ranging in diversity from Germany, Argentina and Italy through to Iran and North Korea!) made recommendations which urged the Australian government to change its policy towards Asylum Seekers and Refugees. Recommendations (among others) included :
- ending mandatory detention
- closing offshore immigration detention centres
- releasing children from immigration detention
- addressing the issue of refoulment (the return of asylum seekers to countries where they face torture and death)
The recommendations can be found in the Report of the Working group which can be downloaded here.
The number of countries that chose to speak gives an indication of how out of step with international standards the Australian policy has become.
Email the Australian government at firstname.lastname@example.org to express your opinion on how Australia might respond to these recommendations.
Amid ongoing protests opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), United Nations Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas urged Governments not to sign the treaty without reaffirming their human rights treaty obligations and their recent pledges to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
“The TPP is fundamentally flawed and should not be signed or ratified unless provision is made to guarantee the regulatory space of States,” he said.
In his statement Mr. de Zayas called for a new generation of trade agreements for the 21st century, which would incorporate human rights and development into their provisions, stressing that “the TPP is based on an old model of trade agreements that is out of step with today’s international human rights regime.”
Trade ministers of 12 countries in the Pacific region signed the treaty in Auckland New Zealand on 4 February, but the parliament of each signatory state must still ratify the treaty individually.
Visit the Get-Up website for more information and actions you can take in Australia.
In his statement, the Independent Expert expressed concern that, despite “enormous opposition by civil society worldwide, twelve countries are about to sign an agreement, which is the product of secret negotiations without multi-stakeholder democratic consultation.” It is alleged the agreement will strengthen the position of investors, transnational corporations and monopolies at the expense of the public, and will impact negatively on labour standards, food security, health and environmental protection.
“Trade agreements are not ‘stand-alone’ legal regimes, but must conform with fundamental principles of international law, including transparency and accountability,” Mr. de Zayas stressed. “They must not delay, circumvent, undermine or make impossible the fulfilment of human rights treaty obligations.”
“The options are not to sign the TPP as it stands, as civil society demands, or not to ratify it, which is the responsibility of democratically elected parliaments,” the expert noted. “Should the TPP ever enter into force, its compatibility with international law should be challenged before the International Court of Justice (ICJ)”.
(Independent Experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.)
Catholic Church Reform International (CCRI) is a global network of committed Catholic organisations and individuals seeking a deeply-rooted reform of the Church through a united voice and collaborative action.
Its 2016 objective is to activate and strengthen the voices of the People of God for the purpose of reforming injustices and inequalities in Church teachings and practices that inhibit their relationship with God.
Specifically in light of Pope Francis’s focus on decentralisation, it aims to :-
- foster grassroots initiated forums inviting bishops and pastors to meet with the People of God in dioceses throughout the world.
- revive the concept of a National Pastoral Council wherein priests, deacons, religious and lay people would collaborate with the bishops in specified areas of decision making.
- ensure representation of elected laity in the institutions of the Catholic Church, at all levels;
- seek transparency and accountability at all levels in our Church
- offer our public support of Pope Francis in creating a just, inclusive, and compassionate Church
- facilitate understanding among lay people who, by virtue of their baptism, have the right and the duty to speak up for the good of our Church
On February 8 and 9, Pope Francis is calling his council together to discuss the decentralisation of the Church.
CCRI is inviting any concerned Catholics, former Catholics, Christians or non-Christians to sign a letter to the pope and his eight Council members ahead of this meeting.
In this years sessions for the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the United Nations, the idea of the culture of silence was discussed. The committee, whose purpose is to monitor the human rights of children in various countries, was concerned with the major challenges of silence.
Although the culture of silence is applicable to a variety of societal issues all around the world, specifically in two southern African countries, Zimbabwe and Zambia, there is a big issue concerning child abuse. Although reporting the abuses seems like the obvious solution, the challenge with this remains in the fear of social rejection.
The delegations of both Zimbabwe and Zambia mentioned that the majority of child offences occur within the family environment. Children are less likely to report cases of abuse in order to protect the “breadwinners” of their family. Specifically for young girls, widespread gender inequality and discrimination still exists, which would lead them to be ostracized and rejected by society.
The empowerment of young girls and young boys needs to be encouraged through awareness and anti-discrimination campaigning. Stronger societal support for women and children would decrease the dependency on the “breadwinners” of the families and hopefully lead to an increase of reporting of abuses and ultimately lower cases of abuse all together.
Kate Harold ERI intern