29 July 2016
Revelations about the abuse and mistreatment of juvenile offenders in the Northern Territory of Australia have provoked widespread outrage and led to the establishment of a Royal Commission. The revelations also raise wider questions, with some human rights advocates urging a broadening of the scope of the Royal commission to include jurisdictions beyond the Northern Territory, arguing that such abuses are widespread.
They also come at a time when a group of doctors are launching a High Court challenge against laws that were passed last year which they say prevent them from speaking out about the conditions they witness in Australian sponsored immigration detention centres. Under the current law anyone disclosing "protected information" gained during their employment or service for the Border Force could face two years imprisonment. Despite this threat, which the doctors believe has deterred other doctors from coming forward, a number of health professionals have gone public about the conditions in the centres.
Deeper questions are also raised about the purpose and effectiveness of detention when one considers the different approaches taken in the US and Norway. In Norway the emphasis is on rehabilitation and restorative justice programs rather than punishment, and prisoners are treated with dignity and respect. In the US 76% of prisoners are re-arrested within 5 years of their release. In Norway the figure is 20%.
It is also interesting to reflect on the shock and outrage provoked by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program when concerns about the treatment of juvenile offenders in the Northern Territory have been raised regularly in the print media and when concerns have long been expressed about the soaring incarceration rates in the Territory (one of the highest in the world at 885 per 1000,000 population compared to 716 per 100,000 in the US), the over-representation of indigenous prisoners in prisons.(27% of prison population while only 3% of total population) and the mandatory sentencing laws which result in jail sentences for minor offences and discriminate against people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
It also seems significant that after effectively ignoring the situation for so long the government announced a Royal commission within 24 hours of the screening of the program. Perhaps the restrictions on media access to places like Nauru are intended to avert a similar public outrage which might force a change in government policy?
This year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Aug 9th is devoted to the right to education.
The right of indigenous peoples to education is protected by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which in Article 14 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
The right of indigenous peoples to education is also protected by a number of other international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.
In spite of these instruments, the right to education has not been fully realised for most indigenous peoples, and a critical education gap exists between indigenous peoples and the general population.
Where data exist, they show consistent and persistent disparities between the indigenous and the non-indigenous population in terms of educational access, retention and achievement, in all regions of the world.
The education sector not only mirrors the historical abuses, discrimination and marginalization suffered by indigenous peoples, but also reflects their continued struggle for equality and respect for their rights as peoples and as individuals.
Global temperatures for the first six months of this year shattered yet more records, and mean that 2016 is on track to be the world’s hottest year on record. June 2016 also marked the 14th consecutive month of record heat for land and oceans. It marked the 378th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average.
All of which underlines the importance of Sep 21st meeting where world leaders are asked to to deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Out of 178 countries which signed the Paris Agreement in April this year, only 19 have ratified it so far, together accounting for less than 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Concerns have also arisen that some countries are already backtracking on the commitments made in Paris with newly elected Philippines president Duterte announcing that he “will not honor” the proposed restrictions on emissions. Concerns have also been expressed about Germany and the UK recently announcing new measures to support the fossil fuel industry and US presidential candidate Donald Trump stating he would cancel the agreement if elected in November.
For suggestions for actions you can take on this issue visit the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change website.
It is now almost four months since the revelations of the ‘Panama Papers’ – a massive leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records from the law firm Mossack Fonseca – exposed an elaborate system of fraudulent shell companies with concealed ownership that allow the wealthy to hide money owed to the public.
Although laws have also been enacted in a number of countries to ensure greater transparency and accountability including the United States , New Zealand and a number of African countries, the focus of media and public attention has been on rich and famous individuals, world leaders, high profile sportsmen and wealthy business leaders.
Concern is growing that an opportunity to address the far more serious problem of widespread, routine corrupt business practice is being missed.
Global Finacial Integrity estimates that opacity in the global financial system, thanks to tax haven secrecy, anonymous companies, trade-based money laundering, and lax financial crime enforcement, drains at least US$1.1 trillion per year out of developing and emerging economies—more than these countries receive in foreign direct investment or foreign aid combined. This global shadow financial system bleeds the world’s poorest economies and propels crime, corruption, and tax evasion.
Visit the JustAct website to sign a petition urging the Australian government to take action to address this issue.