Monday, December 22, 2014

The Unspeakable in Afghanistan

Patrick Kennelly Common Dreams December 19, 2014

Young girls in Afghanistan await a shipment of humanitarian aid in their village in the Gozorah district of Herat province in this ISAF photo. Sadly, writes Kennelly, ‘even basic humanitarian aid has become militarized and politicized’ during more than thirteen years of war in the country. (Photo: ISAF/flickr/cc)
2014 marks the deadliest year in Afghanistan for civilians, fighters, and foreigners. The situation has reached a new low as the myth of the Afghan state continues. Thirteen years into America’s longest war, the international community argues that Afghanistan is growing stronger, despite nearly all indicators suggesting otherwise. Most recently, the central government failed (again) to conduct fair and organized elections or demonstrate their sovereignty. Instead, John Kerry flew into the country and arranged new national leadership. The cameras rolled and a unity government was declared. Foreign leaders meeting in London decided on new aid packages and financing for the nascent ‘unity government……..
The attacks on various targets, ranging from high schools to houses for foreign workers, the military, and even the office of Kabul’s police chief have clearly communicated the ability of anti-government forces to strike at will..........
After four years of traveling to Afghanistan to conduct interviews, I have heard ordinary Afghans whisper about Afghanistan as a failing state, even as the media has touted growth, development, and democracy. Using dark humor to comment on current conditions Afghans joke that everything is working as it should; they acknowledge an unspeakable reality. They point out that more than 101,000 foreign forces trained to fight and use violence who have used their training well—by using violence; that arms merchants have ensured that all parties can continue fighting for years to come by supplying weapons to all sides; that foreign funders backing resistance groups and mercenaries can complete their missions—resulting in both increased violence and an absence of accountability; that the international NGO community implements programs and has profited from over $100 billion in aid; and that the majority of those investments ended up deposited ……………
……………..I have also heard another unspeakable whispered, in contrast to the narrative told by mainstream media. That is, that there is another possibility, that the old way has not worked, and it is time for change; that nonviolence may resolve some of the challenges facing the country……….
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Patrick Dodson warns Aboriginal people will be refugees in their own country if communities close

Dan Harrison Sydney Morning Herald November 21, 2014

‘We're talking about a living culture’: Professor Patrick Dodson. Photo: Damian Kelly
Eminent Aboriginal elder Patrick Dodson has lashed the Abbott government's decision to cease funding for essential services in remote communities, a move that has contributed to one state government proposing to close 150 communities.
Professor Dodson, known as the father of Aboriginal reconciliation and who authored a review of small communities known as outstations or homelands, for the NT government in 2009, said the move would make Aboriginal people refugees in their own country and threaten ancient living cultures……..
‘I think that the Commonwealth has got a clear responsibility,’ Professor Dodson said……..
‘The Federal Minister has to understand that the states have got their own unique issues and problems,’ he said.
‘[Mr Barnett] now has to face up to the reality that these citizens in Western Australia need to be dealt with properly and he needs a proper financial, strategic plan that copes with their cultural and social aspirations. For that the feds ought to give him a bit more time and help phase in a better budget to enable this to happen.’
………Professor Dodson said the consequences of relocating people from their traditional lands would be disastrous, increasing access to drugs and alcohol and exacerbating social tensions, which would flow on to antisocial behaviour and incarceration………
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Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Cafod lecture: Argentinian bishop highlights urgency of tackling climate change

The Tablet November 12, 2014
Climate change and poverty were the focus of the 2014 lecture of the Cafod annual lecture. The speaker was Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who is Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and a close friend of Pope Francis.
Speaking in London on 7 November, he told Cafod supporters: ‘The challenge of climate change has become not only economic, political or social. It is also an issue of morals, religion, values such as justice and social inclusion, the obligation of solidarity with future generations and the moral obligation to care for the earth, namely creation, which is our habitat. And this is the point of concern for the Pope.’ The full text of the bishop's lecture follows:
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

‘A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.’
Chris Hedges Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

‘There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.’
Chris Hedges War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

‘Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. It is not about the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and more potent hope becomes.
Hope never makes sense. Hope is weak, unorganized and absurd. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness, the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on all of us. Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope's power. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face.’ Chris Hedges

‘If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be impossible to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan and listen to the wails of their parents, we would not be able to repeat clichés we use to justify war. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war's perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war's consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining…
The wounded, the crippled, and the dead are, in this great charade, swiftly carted offstage. They are war's refuse. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they tell is too painful for us to hear. We prefer to celebrate ourselves and our nation by imbibing the myths of glory, honor, patriotism, and heroism, words that in combat become empty and meaningless.’
Chris Hedges Death of the Liberal Class

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gender inequality is a man's problem

Joan Chittister National Catholic Reporter November 4, 2014
The headlines are confusing. The questions they raise are even more so. For instance, we ‘empowered’ women, right? After more than 2,000 years, the Western world finally woke up, in our time, to the astounding recognition that women, too, were human. Almost.
By 1922, most English-speaking countries, including the United States, finally allowed women to vote for political leaders. The struggle was a fierce one, and churchmen and politicians alike considered that breakdown in society to be simply the beginning of the decline, ‘the nose of the camel under the tent’ of civilized male society. As Cardinal James Gibbons is said to have reflected, ‘Imagine what will happen to society when women start hanging around polling places.’
And sure enough, the floodgates of immorality swung open: It wasn't long before women were allowed to own property, to work outside the home, to drive cars, to keep their own money, to get an education, to enter into legal contracts, to become ‘professionals’ -- at first, teachers and nurses, but eventually even doctors and lawyers and now bankers and engineers, astronauts and college presidents. Not all at once, of course, but at least a little at a time………
The temptation is to think that at least in the United States, women are free, independent, secure, respected, welcomed on a par with their fathers and brothers everywhere…….
Yet there is another set of headlines, more powerful, more telling than the first, that expose the lie of it all.
This set of headlines -- women groped here, kidnapped there, murdered everywhere, disappeared forever -- headlines bold and ubiquitous, remind a woman always not to misunderstand, not to assume that she can walk down a city street in the United States and expect to get home safely, in one piece, alive. These stories remind her that however much she achieves, does, saves, earns, manages, or assumes to be her human right, her life is really not her own. It is at the eternal mercy of fraternity boys, football teams, stalkers, prowlers, sex addicts, women-hunters, and rampant testosterone…………..
[Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister is a frequent NCR contributor.]
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Risky business: UK arms trade in the spotlight

Nicholas Gilby 19 October 2014

From tear gas used against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to the horrors unleashed by Israel on Gaza, Britain has questions to answer.

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters encounter tear gas. Demotic/PH Yang. All rights reserved.

The UK arms trade is becoming a frequent motif within the media coverage of international crises, and has hardly ever covered itself in glory. We have also seen UK tear gas being used against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. And in the last few months government ministers have accepted that UK arms are likely to have been used by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza over the summer.

In the recent cases of Gaza and Hong Kong, the government's response has been very weak. Business Secretary Vince Cable agreed to suspend 12 licences for weapons to Israel, but only if “significant hostilities resumed”. Hostilities did resume with the breakdown of the ongoing ceasefire and another week of bombardment, but still Cable refused to suspend the licences.

On the other hand, there was never even any public discussion about suspending licences to Hong Kong. On the contrary, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond argued that it was “immaterial” where Hong Kong procured the gas from, as it could just as easily have come from the US.

Instead of criticism following the event, when little can be changed, it would be better to have a system which removed the need for criticism in the first place. How could the UK’s export licensing decision-making be improved?

The architecture of the UK's licensing criteria is not the main problem. The government maintains lists of items for which exporting companies require a licence, and there are a variety of types of licence available. The government has published criteria which it follows when deciding whether export licences can be issued. The vast majority of licences are valid for only two years and can be revoked during that time. The Government has said that licences can be refused or (if they have already been issued and not yet expired) revoked if there is ever a "clear risk" that equipment "might" be used in violation of international humanitarian law or internal repression.

The export licensing system depends on a “risk assessment” officials make at the time an export licence decision is made. Unfortunately it is totally ill-fitted to how the world actually works.

The first problem is that weapons and weapon systems have a shelf-life far longer than the validity of the official risk assessment. This is evident in Iraq where ISIS has seized weapons that were initially provided to the Iraqi government by the Americans, as well as weapons provided by the Saudis to the Syrian rebels. Much of the ammunition being used by ISIS is over 30 years’ old. In 2001 and 2002 the Israelis used UK equipment in the Occupied Territories that had been supplied in the 1960s. Self-evidently, no one can judge what the political situation in any country might be in a few years’ time, let alone decades.

The second problem is that any risk assessment almost certainly underestimates the risks that UK arms exports will be used for nefarious ends, as monitoring is extremely limited. Sir John Stanley, Chairman of Parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls, responded to the government’s claim that there was no evidence that any UK-supplied equipment was used to facilitate internal repression in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring by saying:

“Of course there was no evidence. One has only to look through the 25 pages of items that we exported to see that their nature was overwhelmingly such that their origin could not be identified when they reached the specified countries. They were made up of electronics, communications equipment, cryptography, ammunition and sniper rifles. There are no Union Jacks on bullets and sniper rifles. The Foreign Secretary said that there was no evidence, but of course there was no evidence, and we did not have anyone on the ground anyway.”

The ability to suspend or revoke licences if situations change may sound good in theory but of course cannot be done if the equipment has already been exported or once the two years are up.

The export licensing system is ill-equipped to deal with the reality of weapons with long shelf-lives and a rapidly changing international political scene. However, the system’s weaknesses are exacerbated by the context in which decisions are made. As Campaign Against Arms Trade has pointed out for years, the Government provides huge political support for arms exports. There is a dedicated unit (the Defence and Security Organisation within UKTI) of 130 civil servants whose job it is to promote arms exports. They decide on the UK’s “priority markets”. In 2014 to 2015 the priority markets for arms exports include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE. In less than 12 months the UK will play host to the bi-annual DSEI arms fair in east London. This is one of the biggest arms fairs in the world and will bring hundreds of major arms companies together with some of the worst dictators. The UK has in the last 12 months licensed arms for 18 of the 'countries of concern' listed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report.

The current system is overwhelmingly stacked in favour of business. In 2013, 195 licences were refused, but almost 9,500 were issued for items on the Military List. The UK's largest 'buyer' is the repressive tyranny of Saudi Arabia, which the government licensed £1.6 billion pounds’ worth of military licences to in 2013 alone.

So, not surprisingly, the current system can produce exceptionally poor judgement. Export licences were issued for the export of dual-use chemicals to Syria after the civil war started. At the start of the Arab Spring government ministers had to scramble to revoke many arms export licences for the repressive regimes of Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Weapons are routinely sold to governments that abuse human rights. Furthermore, evidence of previous Israeli use in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009 of combat aircraft and armoured vehicles containing UK-supplied components was ignored as licences for the same were issued prior to the recent crisis and not revoked during it.

There is no good reason to operate a system so overwhelmingly biased in favour of business. Arms exports are heavily subsidised by tax payers and account for less than 0.2 percent of UK jobs, a figure likely to fall rather than rise even with business as usual. Conflict may always be a feature of human society, but such a permissive attitude towards arms exports will hardly help reduce it.

Some point to the Arms Trade Treaty as a solution to the problem, but there is little evidence to support that. In fact the treaty text is far less strict than the UK Government’s existing criteria. At the moment the top arms exporter in the world, the US, has not ratified it, and two other major suppliers, the Russians and Chinese, have not even signed it. The treaty is supported by much of the arms industry itself. Earlier this year Roger Carr, the Chairman of BAE Systems, candidly told his company's AGM that he did not expect the treaty to have any impact on BAE's business.

The Committees on Arms Export Controls are right to criticise arms sales to 'countries of concern' and call for “significantly more cautious judgements”, but as the violence in Hong Kong has shown, the issue goes much wider than that.

A first step to improving matters would be for the government to identify weapon categories that are likely to be used to abuse human rights. This should be combined with a list of governments that are undemocratic in character or those with a history of human rights concerns, instability or war, with all arms sales being blocked to these countries.

Unilateral action may not lead to the abolition of the global arms trade, but each country has the option of either challenging or complying with the arms trade. If the UK is sincere in wanting to end human rights abuses then it must play its own part.

In our own society the government tightly controls access to arms – as a result very few people have them. This is because the government rightfully believes that doing so will reduce the likelihood of violence. An extremely restrictive approach rightly applies to weapons of mass destruction. However, when it comes to repressive states the government takes a very different and wholly irresponsible view. It is time that the government focused on limiting arms exports rather than promoting them, and in doing so began to treat arms sales to repressive foreign governments in the same way as it does arms sales to its own citizens.

About the author

Nicholas Gilby is the author of Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain's Arms Trade (Pluto Press, 2014). You can follow him at @nicholas_gilby.

Source from Open Democracy:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Engaging Extremists Key to Peace

By webadmin on 01:59 pm Jan 29, 2013

Category Archive

Sumanto Al Qurtuby

For many people, the Rev. Paulus Hartono, a Mennonite church minister in Solo, Central Java, might be seen as a “deranged Christian.” While most people in this country, especially Christians and other religious minorities, tend to avoid hard-line Muslims, this pastor approached — and then befriended — members of Hizbullah (“Party of God,” a Solo-based Islamist paramilitary group not related to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah).

The basis of what is now a solid friendship, it should be noted, is not to foster violence but rather to transform destructive conflict into productive peace. For years, the pastor and Mennonite communities in Central Java have worked together with this group, members of Nahdlatul Ulama, non-Mennonite Christians and other elements of local society for humanitarian services, post-disaster relief, interreligious dialogue and peacemaking activities.

Mennonites are Christians in the Anabaptist peace church tradition, which has membership of more than 1.3 million worldwide. Based on the 2006 census of the Mennonite World Conference, there are 72,624 Mennonites in Indonesia, making it the world’s sixth-largest Mennonite concentration.

Compared with other militia groups such as Laskar Jihad, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), and Laskar Mujahidin, Hizbullah is less-known by scholars and the Indonesian public in general. Notwithstanding the lack of academic and media coverage, however, Hizbullah had indeed contributed to numerous intolerant actions and anti-Christian campaigns in Solo and neighboring areas. During the Christian-Muslim upheavals in Poso and Ambon, this group also deployed hundreds of its members to these conflict zones to assist their Muslim brethren, joining forces with other Muslim hardliners to battle against Christian fighters.

Paulus Hartono, a director of Mennonite Diaconial Services, which is an agency of Muria Christian Church, first approached Hizbullah about a decade ago to offer a hand in mediating disputes over the group’s radio station (known Hiz FM). When the pastor first came to Hizbullah’s headquarters, the commander refused to speak with him, telling him only: “You are a Christian and infidel, and therefore it is halal [legitimate] for us [Muslims] to murder you.”

Despite the rude response, the pastor did not give up. He returned again and again to Hizbullah’s office to drink tea, chat and offer help. Paulus, who co-founded the Forum for Peace Across Religions and Groups (FPLAG), believes that at the most basic level militia members are no different from anyone else; they are, above all, human beings who share the same brains and hearts, minds and feelings, hates and loves. After frequent meetings and talks, the commander finally agreed with Hartono’s bid to make a new radio station, knowing that the pastor had both skills and resources. Now, the commanding officer is happy because Hizbullah has its own radio station to spread Islamic dakwah (propagation).

“Before building peace,” the pastor told me, “one needs to build trust first, and establishing trust among ‘enemies’ is unlike flipping our hand palms.” The pastor may be right: the failure of the completion of peace accords in some societies across the globe is probably rooted in deep distrust among the conflicting parties.

Unlike most other areas in Indonesia, Solo is quite unique. Up to now, Solo has preserved courtly traditions inherited from the Islamic Mataram kingdom, which was established in the 17th century. As the home of the Islamic Mataram Empire and later the Surakarta Court (Keraton Surakarta Hadiningrat), Solo has rich Javanese cultural and mystical traditions. Since the founding of this kingdom, Solo has served as a melting pot of diverse ethnicities, social groupings, cultures and religions, which drive the region to both intercommunity pacification and infrequent clashes between ethno-religious groups.

Besides serving as a rich cultural center, Solo, unfortunately, is also notorious as a “home ground” of Islamist and terrorist groups. In this area, Abu Bakar Bashir, a conservative-militant Muslim leader of Hadhrami-Arab descent and the “Supreme Leader” of Jemaah Islamiyah, which the US government has dubbed as Southeast Asia’s axis of global terrorism, built a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) as a center for seeding Wahhabi-Salafi-linked puritanical forms of Islamic teachings. Most if not all members of Hizbullah are affiliated with this pesantren. It is thus not startling why religious views of this group are bigoted and anti-Christian.

After establishing trust — and acquaintance — with Hizbullah leaders, there came the big moment that transformed the relationship between the pastor and the commander: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In response to this tragedy, as Mennonite scholar David Shenk wrote, the pastor invited the commander and members of this group to come to Aceh, the area hardest hit, aiming at working with a Christian team in the post-tsunami reconstruction. The project was supported by the Mennonite Central Committee, a North American relief and development agency. Remarkably, the Hizbullah leaders accepted the call, and then joined the team. For months this unique group of volunteers worked together to rebuild broken houses and public facilities. They also ate together and slept together in tents.

Aceh didn’t mark the end of this interfaith relief effort. When huge earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which claimed thousands of lives and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, hit Yogyakarta and parts of Central Java, they worked together again, assisting thousands of people and preparing sites to rebuild 100 Christian and Muslim homes. Not only that, they also collaborated to rebuild damaged mosques and churches.

After years of collaboration and friendship, one day the commander suddenly sobbed. His tears dropped down moistening his cheeks. In front of Rev. Paulus Hartono, he said, or, perhaps more precisely, confessed: “When I reflect on what we have talked and done to you and Christians, and then I see and witness what you and Christians have reciprocated [with love and compassion], my heart has melted within me. Now, I have realized and discovered that you Christians are good infidels.”

Their work for peace and humanity continues to this day.

This short story is a reminder that engaging extremists can be a fruitful way to boost interethnic or religious peace and integration. The peace-building pioneer John Paul Lederach reminds us: “One cannot build a bridge starting from the middle.” This statement is a strong critique to those working for peace and dialogue who focus on strengthening moderates while neglecting extremists.

It is time to change our lens.

Sumanto Al Qurtuby, a deputy chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama’s North American branch and a research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, can be contacted at

Source from

The Madness of Endless War Killing for Peace Winslow Myers CounterPunch October 14, 2014

Since 9-11-01, the United States, by any objective assessment a globe-girdling military empire, has been sucked into an ongoing global civil war between brutal extremists (often fighting among themselves) and those, including us, they perceive as their mortal enemies. We are rightfully outraged by cruel beheadings videotaped for Internet distribution. The beheaders and suicide bombers are equally outraged by our extensive military presence in their ancestral homelands and drone attacks upon weddings.
Meanwhile, though the government of our mighty empire can read our emails and tap our telephones, the worldwide nonviolent movement to bring about positive change somehow flies completely under its supposedly all-seeing radar screens. The peoples of the earth are overwhelmingly against war, and they want their fair share of the earth’s resources and the possibilities of democratic governance…………
Our media narrows discourse and fans the flames by only allowing U.S. citizens to see through the narrow lens of exceptionalism, polarization and violence. Fear mongers, legion in our culture, insist that adherents of ISIS are hardly human. But we should keep their humanity in our hearts even as we abhor their acts, just as we ought to abhor our own descent into torture and extra-judicial killings. People do not do what those ISIS fighters do without having been rendered desperate and callous by some painful sense of injustice………..
The possibility that we are already fighting a third world war, having forgotten the lesson of how little anybody wanted or expected to get into the first one, suggests the need to call upon the spirit of figures like King and Dag Hammarskjold, that world ambassador for peace……….
Winslow Myers is the author of ‘Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.’ He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative, is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, and writes for Peacevoice.
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Sunday, October 26, 2014

It is becoming much easier to go to war.

John Menadue Pearls and Irritations October 20, 2014
We used to think that the gravest decision any government could make was to take its country to war. Not any more. Going to war for us has now become almost common place. We commit to war after war – Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – but we are unwilling to contemplate the disaster which each of those wars has brought not only to Australians but to millions of other people. But rather than face up to our mistakes we hide behind the valour of service personnel who have made sacrifices.
Each of our military adventures in recent decades started with strong political support but they all turned into disasters.
Our current involvement in war in Iraq and Syria is now so commonplace that the parliament does not even discuss it.
As Henry Reynolds put it ‘
The threshold Australian governments need to cross in order to send forces overseas is perilously low. Because there has never been an assessment of why Australia has been so often involved in war, young people must get the impression that war is a natural and inescapable part of national life. It is what we do and we are good at it. We ‘punch above our weight’. War is treated as though it provides the venue and the occasion for Australian heroism and martial virtuosity. While there is much talk of dying, or more commonly of sacrifice, there is little mention of killing and never any assessment of the carnage visited on distant countries in our name.’
In modern Australia the sword has become mightier than the pen………
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A stunning answer to the cynics…..a reflection on his recent visit Colm Regan

Dr Colm Regan is Coordinator of 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World in Dublin, and lecturer in human rights at the University of Malta. He is in Australia as a guest of the Edmund Rice Centre and visited Hong Kong last week.
It is genuinely humbling to walk from the ferry terminal towards Admiralty to the epicentre of the Umbrella Movement’s occupation site in Hong Kong. Amidst the upmarket hotels, limousines, banks and giant billboards glorifying global overconsumption are literally thousands and thousands of posters, post-its and slogans demanding, in stark contrast, democracy, equality, care and tolerance. As you walk along the normally frenetic overpasses (now ‘occupied’ and therefore closed to traffic), there are storyboard posters apologising for the ‘inconvenience’ to others caused by this particular struggle for democracy. There are elaborately constructed barriers carefully structured to prevent easy dismantling. You then begin to encounter students reading or working on laptops at ‘study centres’ built across the motorway divide (with signs requesting you to ‘protect the students, do not photograph faces’) and hundreds of sleeping bodies recovering from confrontations with police the previous night.
There are numerous ‘first aid stations’ – ‘we have masks, cleansing liquid (for tear gas), bandages, water, food etc. – ‘take what you need, do not waste’; small clusters of discussion groups; piles of water bottles; tents plus sleeping bags and mats. And then you notice how spotlessly clean the area is - none of the mess and debris normally associated with ‘youth events’ or political confrontations (these protesters clean up regularly and even sort the recyclables!). Above all, there is a slightly eerie calm not normally associated with a site of confrontation between an immensely powerful state and a youth lead popular movement. As befits an ‘Umbrella Uprising’ (the movement’s own term), there are umbrellas everywhere (epitomised by the Umbrella Man, an artpiece created by ‘Milk’) decorated with messages, values and slogans.
And then you see the thousands and literally thousands of ‘post its’ covering the ‘Lennon’ (as in John) wall and steps expressing messages of solidarity and support from all over the world including, most importantly, from mainland China (a worry for Beijing). Above the wall, banners declaring ‘My parents are crying for me, I am crying for the future’ and ‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one’. The pedestrian walkway overhead the motorway is mostly reserved for designated press areas (this uprising is immensely media savvy) – cameras, satellite dishes, mixers and generators.
Welcome to a distinctively twenty-first century protest movement with its feet and approach firmly in the ‘now’ but with roots and inspiration in previous times and places. While this is a uniquely ‘Chinese’ uprising, many of its implications and lessons are truly global. The making of this uprising, the detail and meticulousness of its planning and the style of its delivery offer much to others. But, its true significance and legacy may well be its over-arching ‘youthfulness’ – the uprising is inspired and led by very young Chinese ‘activists’ of a new generation. In this, it is hugely inspiring and hopeful and it offers a stunning rebuke to universal cynics on the role of young people. For those at the epicentre of the uprising, it bears all the hallmarks of a transformative process and whatever the immediate outcome (for ‘storm clouds’ are now gathering almost three weeks in – implied threats from Beijing, opposition from self-interested business and media elites in Hong Kong and divisions within the population at large), the longer-term impact is likely to be immense.
The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong did not emerge overnight; it has been brewing for many years, certainly since British colonialism formally withdrew in July 1997. The Uprising has been nurtured in the universities, colleges and school; influenced and informed by workshops, seminars, lectures, teachers and student leaders and given the ‘space’ and opportunity to emerge by the unique position of Hong Kong within China (officially ‘one country, two systems’). As such the uprising is intensely Chinese and yet distinctively international and herein lies one of its great strengths and, simultaneously one of its potential weaknesses. Beijing is acutely aware that the world is watching (the realtime use of mobile phones and laptops by the protestors has ensured this) and a repeat of the Tiananmen Square response is not on the cards.
The protest movement is now firmly led by activist group ‘Scholarism’ (an alliance against ‘moral and national’ education) founded in 2011 by a group of secondary students who have remained active since (‘mainland’ Chinese now living in Hong Kong have commented on the high level of political awareness and debate there amongst students generally). The current occupy actions have been sparked by Scholarism’s insistence that civic nomination rather than party nomination mark the 2017 election of a Chief Executive. As of now, it is unclear what the outcome will be for the protest movement in a cat and mouse series of manoeuvres with the police, Beijing and the local administration but storm clouds are gathering. There is ominous talk of ‘foreign influence’, ‘threats to order and public safety’, ‘disruption’ and the threat that ‘violence’ might emerge. Local opposition is growing, especially from business interests who argue that the ‘business’ of Hong Kong must not be interrupted. And the appearance of support actions in mainland China (very limited) will not go unheeded as the police begin to systematically move against the protesters.
Whatever the outcome, a number of significant dimensions of this occupy action are worth highlighting. Events in Hong Kong have once again demonstrated the growing importance of social media and the power and immediacy of communication. The occupy actions have illustrated the immense preparedness of the movement and the fact that this is not a single event agenda; all does not hang on what happens in Admiralty (or elsewhere where support actions have emerged – these have highlighted the capacity of the agenda to spread organically). The protest will live on to fight another day. The movement has also been active in ensuring a very high degree of public education around its objectives, motivation and respect for peaceful means. Protesters have been remarkably polite, ‘protective’ of the environment which they occupy (it is spotless) and of each other. Their activists manual urges avoiding physical confrontation wherever possible (and is evident in the ‘face offs’ with the police); it also urges protesters to avoid developing ‘hatred in your heart’.
What is most striking about these events is the youthfulness of the protesters, their audacity and their courage, their calmness and discipline, their firm determination and their solidarity towards each other. Above all, the events are characterised by a ‘raging naivety and optimism’ – a fierce belief that change is not only possible, it is urgently needed. Ultimately, that optimism represents real hope coupled with political leadership in a world where the dominant politics have come to signify cynicism and fundamental dishonesty. And, the agenda has once again reminded us of the power and importance of youth in generating change, especially in ‘dark corners’ of the world. This is confirmed by Emily Lau, a local legislator who argues that ‘It’s very invigorating to have such a spontaneous, peaceful movement full of young people… Once people have been shown their power they will know how to use it again and again’.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ebola – as seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old from Sierra Leone/ Followed by Australia's Response to the crisis

As the virus shows no sign of halting its relentless march, Bintu Sannoh describes its devastating impact on her community
Bintu Sannoh The Observer October 12, 2014 Jump to comments (146)

The Kenema community faces an uncertain future. Photograph: Josta Hopps/Street Child
Ebola is not a pleasing name to me. In fact, I hate even to hear the word – it has destroyed my family and education. Life was hard but OK: I live with my aunt and many family members in a big compound; we have always been poor but there was happiness. But now we are terrified. Too many people, friends and families, have died and are still dying. And the number of orphans increases on a daily basis.
When Ebola first arrived in my country, we weren’t too worried. Then came ‘sensitisation’ – all the community groups and NGOs running around talking about Ebola. But many refused to believe in the danger and even tried to make politics out of it. We had a riot in Kenema, under the banner of ‘Ebola is not real’. Some said the government does not care about Ebola because the government is from the north and the virus is in the east (home of the opposition party). Others said it was because doctors wanted your blood. There were so many stories and no one took Ebola too seriously.
Then, in early August, the situation changed. The government banned all movements in and out of Kenema and Kailahun districts. This hurt everyone, not just those with Ebola, as almost everything came to a standstill. We were trapped – and still are. My aunt, who used to go to the trade fair to buy local goods at low prices, could no longer travel. We had less money at home – like everyone apart from the rich people who Aunty said made money because of high prices.
Things got much worse still when Ebola came into our community. There was a pharmacist who got ill but said he was suffering from a septic ulcer, so he never went to the hospital. We believed him because he was a medical man and maybe because we didn’t know any better. Many people came in contact with him during his illness. When he died, his corpse was washed and prepared for burial by people in the community, as is our custom…………
Ebola crisis appeal:
Read more

Ebola crisis: Australia won’t send doctors into harm’s way, says Abbott
International health organisations have criticised Australia’s ‘underwhelming’ response to the outbreak in west Africa
Michael Safi October 12, 2014

Sophia Doe sits with her grandchildren while watching the arrival of an Ebola team to take away the body of her daughter, Mekie Nagbe, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
The Australian government will not send doctors or nurses to west Africa to help contain the Ebola crisis until it is certain ‘all of the risks are being properly managed’, the prime minister, Tony Abbott, has said.
Figures released on Saturday by the World Health Organisation show that more than 4,000 people have died in the Ebola epidemic that broke out in west Africa in March, out of a total of 8,399 registered cases. The death toll includes 233 health workers.
International health organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) have criticised the Abbott government’s ‘underwhelming’ response to the outbreak, which has included cash grants to MSF, the World Health Organisation and British front line efforts in Sierra Leone – but no Australian medical personnel.
Save the Children has called on the government to follow the lead of the Obama administration and send troops to help manage the response to the epidemic, which has claimed over 2,300 lives in Liberia alone.
But Abbott said on Sunday that the latest death toll would not change the government’s view on sending Australian health workers……….
Abbott said he ‘admired the selfless humanitarianism’ of the dozens of Australian doctors and nurses currently working in west Africa with non-government organisations. But there was ‘a world of difference’ between that and ‘ordering Australian personnel to go into a situation without the kind of risk minimisation strategies that any responsible Australian government would have to put it place’……….
Read more

Monday, October 6, 2014

Is NZ violating the SIS Act over US drone strikes?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014, 5:36 pm
Article: Bob Rigg
Is NZ violating the SIS Act over US drone strikes?

by Bob Rigg
July 15, 2014

After decades of lively public debate, New Zealand abolished the death penalty for murder in 1961. It is not widely known that the death penalty for treason remained on the statute books until it was also abolished in 1989.

From then on no one could be legally sentenced to death or executed in accordance with New Zealand law, for any reason. Until the death penalty was abolished, all persons charged with capital offences were entitled to defend themselves through legal process.

In mid-April of this year the Australian newspaper revealed that five people including one Australian citizen and one man with dual Australian-New Zealand citizenship had been killed by a US Predator drone strike on 19 November 2013. It is noteworthy that neither the Australian nor the New Zealand government fronted up voluntarily with this story.

New Zealand target of US drone strike was “collateral damage”
The Australian broke the news, reporting that only three of the five men killed had been primary targets. A “senior [Australian] counter-terrorism source” had contacted Australian officials after the strike, indicating that the Australian and New Zealand victims had been “collateral damage”.

While Australian ministers immediately retreated behind a firewall of confidentiality, John Key denied any direct responsibility for the killing by claiming that he had not shared intelligence with the Americans in the critical phase.

John Key claims that, although he was not consulted, the strike was “legitimate”
John Key was being economical with the truth when he described the killing of New Zealander Daryl Jones, or bin John, as “legitimate … given that three of the people killed were well-known al-Qaeda operatives”. He was diverting attention from the fact that, according to the Australian’s sources, the New Zealander and the Australian were not primary targets. They just happened to be “collateral damage”.

President Obama disclosed years ago that he personally signs off on kill lists for US drone strikes. This means that he must have personally authorized drone strikes only on the three primary targets in this case. Even though US drone strikes commonly cause collateral damage, Obama would certainly not have provided carte blanche to kill Daryl Jones or anyone else who just happened to be around at the time.

The Five Eyes intelligence network to which New Zealand belongs is an exceptional and unusual arrangement whereby five governments have agreed to share enormous quantities of intelligence concerning security matters of common interest.

Blind in Five Eyes
In recent times it has become apparent that much of this intelligence is of dubious legality. By virtue of its membership of the Five Eyes network New Zealand’s government can access and use this dubious intelligence, and may well also be using some of the questionable intelligence-gathering techniques made public by the indiscretions of Edward Snowden.

Moreover, if New Zealand may not legally spy on its own citizens, other Five Eyes partners may spy on the same citizens and then share information about them with New Zealand intelligence agencies.

Trust is at the heart of intelligence-sharing between these five governments, although it has to be said that trust between them and their citizens has been in short supply, at the latest since Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about US intelligence excesses.

In the meantime the US continues to inflame Germany by being caught out spying. All that Germany wants is for Five Eyes to become Six Eyes, including Germany. But the US refuses; while it can rule the roost over the network’s current members, the redoubtable Angela Merkel would work for enhanced transparency and accountability, something which the famous five want to avoid at all costs.

The Obama administration has been under unrelenting US public pressure to disclose much more of what its massively funded intelligence agencies are up to, especially in relation to the killing of US citizens. Debate has focused on Obama’s decision to killAnwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen alleged to be, in Obama’s words, “al Qaeda's most active operational affiliate" in Yemen. The accuracy of the information on which the decision to kill was based is still being hotly debated. About two weeks after al-Awlaki was killed, his young 16 year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was carbonised by a drone strike while he was outside with a friend. All that remained was his distinctive mop of hair. Obama was unhappy, while senior representatives of the intelligence establishment mired themselves in contradiction and confusion.

Although the US public has known since 2010 of the existence of a high level legal opinion justifying drone strikes on US citizens without due process of law, the Obama administration has not wavered in its resolve to keep this opinion a secret.

In a major blow to what little remains of Obama’s liberal credentials, a US federal appeals court has just ruled that this heavily redacted opinion must be published.

One of its key provisions states that the target’s activities must pose “a continued and imminent threat of violence or death to Americans” and, just as importantly, that a “capture operation would be infeasible”.

This Obama policy which has been in force since 2010 shows that the three men targeted while in the company of Jones must have been deemed to pose “a continued and imminent threat of violence or death to Americans” (author’s emphasis).

In declaring that Jones’s extrajudicial drone killing was “justified”, was the Prime Minister relying on legal advice, or was he making up the law as he went along? If he was relying on legal advice, the New Zealand public is entitled to see and debate this.

While consistently depriving the US public of useful information about US intelligence policy and practices, Obama has been reluctantly forced into public pledges of personal commitment to greater transparency. For example, in an online interview sponsored by Google, he even said: "What I think is absolutely true is it's not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we're doing the right thing." This is precisely what New Zealand’s Prime Minister expects of the New Zealand public.

The killing of US citizens by US drones has been a hot issue in the US for some years now. US intelligence would not normally authorize the execution of a citizen of a trusted Five Eyes partner without first seeking approval for that. If the US unilaterally killed a citizen of another Five Eyes partner without prior consultation, and later discovered that the government in question saw this as unjustified, this could damage working relationships.

The New Zealand public is known to be concerned about Snowden’s revelations, and also about foreign policy. However, unlike President Obama, John Key can safely assume that New Zealand’s media, academics, and non governmental organisations will generally be as quiescent and ineffectual as ever where foreign policy and intelligence matters are concerned, while Parliament will continue to assume that foreign policy is a non-issue for the Kiwi voter.

John Key not consulted about Daryl Jones because Jones was not targeted
However, if it is true that Daryl Jones was not one of the three targeted victims, and was indeed a case of collateral damage, John Key would most probably not have been consulted.

Instead, he would have been advised of the killing after the event, and would have had to decide whether to cover for Obama, or whether to go public by asking a few penetrating questions of a foreign government which had killed a New Zealand citizen without any semblance of due process. Given John Key’s intimate relationship with the US administration, he chose to declare that the extrajudicial killing of a New Zealand citizen by US armed forces was justified. He did not want to embarrass his presidential golfing partner.

This may also partly explain why the New Zealand and Australian governments did not of their own accord inform their publics of the extrajudicial killing of their two citizens. They were privately unhappy about what had happened, but did not want to share this with their publics. Above all, they wanted at all costs to avoid embarrassing their key foreign policy ally.

Accountability and drone strikes – the international dimension
The Prime Minister must be aware of the fierce debate on this question in Obama’s US, but will also have been briefed on the increasingly acrimonious debate in the UN. In 2013 the UN General Assembly responded to a Pakistani initiative by referring the question of drone strikes to the UN Human Rights Council. Amongst other things, Pakistan was concerned about the fact that US drone strikes were killing significant numbers of innocent Pakistani civilians.

In the US armed forces innocent civilians killed by US drones are commonly dehumanized as “bugsplat”. For them New Zealand’s Daryl Jones was just another case of bugsplat. And seemingly for New Zealand’s Prime Minister as well.

The US was angered when a special report by a UN rapporteur recommended that alleged cases of collateral damage from drone strikes should be formally enquired into and publicly reported on. Enhanced accountability and transparency were key watchwords. The US announced that, when the UN Human Rights Council reconvenes, it will not participate in discussion of this issue. France and the United Kingdom obligingly fell into line. The forthcoming November meeting of the UN Human Rights Council will witness a showdown, with the US and its powerful allies trying to undercut support for Pakistan’s initiative, which they want to see laid to rest in the enormous graveyard of failed UN resolutions. New Zealand is not a member of the UN Human Rights Council, but will have to confront this issue sooner or later.

Accountability is lacking
The laws underpinning New Zealand’s two principal intelligence agencies assign to a minister, normally the Prime Minister, control of all their functions. While the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) produce annual reports and report to a parliamentary committee and the Leader of the Opposition, real information about what these two organisations and their Five Eyes partners are up to is as scarce as hen’s teeth.

The only person not an employee of these two organisations who is legally required to be briefed on their activities is the Prime Minister, who occasionally publicly admits that even he is not fully informed about all aspects of their work.

One precondition for New Zealand’s Five Eyes membership must have been a formal and secret undertaking to exclude everyone other than the Prime Minister from any real understanding of what that intelligence network is up to. As far as Five Eyes and other international intelligence networks are concerned, the elected Prime Minister of New Zealand is accountable solely to his intelligence partners, and not to the New Zealand public. This makes a mockery of the democratic principles of transparency and accountability, and is inconsistent with the legal requirement for the SIS to act “in a manner that facilitates effective democratic oversight”.

The New Zealand public is entitled to be fully informed about the legal foundation for the relationship between the New Zealand government and the Five Eyes network to which it belongs, including an assessment of its consistency with the Security Intelligence Service Act.

Is New Zealand violating its own Security Intelligence Service Act?
The SIS Act specifies that the SIS shall act “in accordance with New Zealand law and all human rights standards recognised by New Zealand law, except to the extent that they are, in relation to national security, modified by an enactment”.

The death penalty has been erased from New Zealand’s statute books. New Zealand law and New Zealand human rights standards accordingly do not in any way empower the government to legitimise the killing of any New Zealand citizen, at home or abroad. They certainly do not authorise the Prime Minister to outsource power over the life and death of New Zealanders to unaccountable military or intelligence agencies of a foreign government, as happened in the case of Daryl Jones.

Jones was the victim of an extrajudicial drone strike carried out by US armed forces acting without prior authorisation from the New Zealand government.

Daryl Jones was a case of collateral damage. He was denied due process, which he was entitled to, in the language of the SIS Act, “in accordance with New Zealand law and all human rights standards recognised by New Zealand law”. And as New Zealand law and human rights standards no longer recognise the death penalty under any circumstances, the New Zealand government was acting illegally when it retroactively legitimised the extrajudicial execution of a New Zealand citizen.

In a recent response to a question in the House about Afghanistan John Key declined to rule out the possibility that New Zealanders other than Daryl Jones may have been killed on the basis of intelligence provided to foreign partners by New Zealand armed forces. The Prime Minister said, somewhat vaguely: “Our International Security Assistance Force partners have used that information, I suspect, and I cannot confirm exactly the results of that.”

Although the Prime Minister is legally defined as being in “control” of the SIS, he was unwilling or unable to require the SIS to account fully to him and the public on an issue of major public importance.

The SIS must be required to disclose whether New Zealand citizens other than Daryl Jones have been killed or wounded by New Zealand or allied armed forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or elsewhere, by drones or by other military means.

The Prime Minister is not in control of New Zealand’s intelligence services. They control him, while they in turn are controlled by extremely powerful overseas intelligence agencies whose untransparent policies and practices are frequently concealed from their own governments.

John Key has reintroduced the death penalty to New Zealand, unilaterally, in secret, and in the absence of consultation with both Parliament and the New Zealand public.

For the time being at least, the US will continue to rely heavily on drones as its killer weapon of choice in the world’s Islamic hot spots. Unless New Zealand public opinion acts to deny New Zealand governments the power to legitimise the killing of New Zealand citizens by military allies, or even by New Zealand armed forces, New Zealand citizens who engage with Islam abroad will be an endangered species.


© Scoop Media

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Control Arms

Dear supporter,

A photo finish is always exciting – particularly when it involves changing the global arms trade.

On 25 September a further eight countries ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), bringing the Race to 50 over the finish line. With over 50 governments having completed their ratification the Treaty is now set to enter into force and become binding international law on 24 December 2014, less than three months away.

Thank you to each and every one of you who took action. Your continuous support has ensured that the ATT will become international law and save lives.

To mark this accomplishment, Control Arms has launched an online gallery: 50 celebrating 50. The gallery features photos and quotes from 50 individuals from across civil society, government and the UN whose support was vital to the achievement of the ATT. This website is also available in French and Spanish!

Without a doubt, you have been an important part of this race. Now we want to share your story too.

Please take a moment to submit your own story and we’ll add you name alongside those of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Oscar-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou, former child solider Eric Niragira and many others.

Contributing to 50 Celebrating 50 will help us promote an important message to governments: that the ATT entering into force is a #chance2change the arms trade. We encourage everyone who has been a part of the campaign to add their voices.

At Control Arms, we know that changing the world doesn’t happen overnight. We are ready to continue to do our part to make sure that the Arms Trade Treaty is more than just words on paper.

Add your own story to remind the world to celebrate this milestone and show that we all are ready for the next challenge.

Thank you for your support,

Lorey Campese and the Control Arms Team

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The nuclear war against Australia's Aboriginal people

Jim Green The Ecologist July 14, 2014
Australia's nuclear industry has a shameful history of 'radioactive racism' that dates from the British bomb tests in the 1950s. The same attitudes have been evident in recent debates over uranium mines and nuclear waste, but Aboriginal peoples are fighting back!
We will be still talking about our story in the communities up north so no one else has to go through this. We want to let the whole world know that we stood up very strong.
The British government conducted 12 nuclear bomb tests in Australia in the 1950s, most of them at Maralinga in South Australia.
Permission was not sought from affected Aboriginal groups such as the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Tjarutja and Kokatha.
Thousands of people were adversely affected and the impact on Aboriginal people was particularly profound.

Many Aboriginal people suffered from radiological poisoning. There are tragic accounts of families sleeping in the bomb craters. So-called 'Native Patrol Officers' patrolled thousands of square kilometres to try to ensure that Aboriginal people were removed before nuclear tests took place - with little success.
'Ignorance, incompetence and cynicism'
The 1985 Royal Commission found that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by ‘ignorance, incompetence and cynicism’. Many Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from their homelands and taken to places such as the Yalata mission in South Australia, which was effectively a prison camp…………
Radioactive ransom - dumping on the Northern Territory
Since 2006 successive federal governments have been attempting to establish a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty, 110 km north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
A toxic trade-off of basic services for a radioactive waste dump has been part of this story from the start. The nomination of the Muckaty site was made with the promise of $12 million compensation package comprising roads, houses and scholarships…………..
The politics is no less dirty
The Liberal / National Coalition government led by John Howard passed legislation - the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 - overriding the Aboriginal Heritage Act, undermining the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and allowing the imposition of a nuclear dump with no Aboriginal consultation or consent………..
Aboriginal owners savour a rare victory
Muckaty Traditional Owners were determined to stop the dump and they have been supported by the Beyond Nuclear Initiative; a pro bono legal team led by legal firm Maurice Blackburn; the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance; key trade unions including the Australian Council of Trade Unions; church groups; medical and public health organisations; local councils; the Australian Greens; and environment groups such as Friends of the Earth, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Environment Centre NT……………
Dumping on South Australia
The failed attempt to establish a dump at Muckaty followed the failed attempt to establish a dump in South Australia. In 1998, the Howard government announced its intention to build a nuclear waste dump near Woomera in South Australia.
Leading the battle against the dump were the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern SA. Many of the Kungkas personally suffered the impacts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu in the 1950s…………
Victory in the Federal Court
The Kungkas continued to implore the federal government to 'get their ears out of their pockets', and after six years the government did just that.
In the lead-up to the 2004 federal election - after a Federal Court ruling that the federal government had acted illegally in stripping Traditional Owners of their native title rights, and with the dump issue biting politically in SA - the Howard government decided to cut its losses and abandon the dump plan……………..
Nuclear war
Muckaty Traditional Owners have won a significant battle for country and culture, but the problems and patterns of radioactive racism persist. Racism in the uranium mining industry involves: ignoring the concerns of Traditional Owners; divide-and-rule tactics; radioactive ransom; 'humbugging' Traditional Owners (exerting persistent, unwanted pressure); providing Traditional Owners with false information; and threats, including legal threats……………
Nuclear interests trump aboriginal rights
Thus the Olympic Dam mine is largely exempt from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Sub-section 40(6) of the Commonwealth's Aboriginal Land Rights Act exempts the Ranger uranium mine in the NT from the Act and thus removed the right of veto that Mirarr Traditional Owners would otherwise have enjoyed……….
Read more

Sunday, September 14, 2014

MEDIA RELEASE – 11th September 2014 Ms Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria”

“Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria” deplores the decision by U.S. President Obama to take military action against ISIL in Syria without the consent of the Syrian Government. Such military action will be illegal.

Furthermore, AMRIS condemns U.S. military support to what President Obama terms the ‘Syrian opposition’. The vast majority of Syrian people do not support any militarized opposition groups, but rather support the institutions of the state. (NB: There is an internal opposition - parties and groups which eschew violence.)

The Syrian regular army has lost tens of thousands of soldiers in its battle against militias, including ISIL. With very little support from the local population, these sectarian militias depend on foreign fighters who include Sunni Muslims misled by a myth, namely that a minority Shi’a sect is oppressing the Sunni majority in Syria.

Syria is a secular society and its government and army reflect the diverse mix of ethnic groups and faiths in Syria. The ministries are dominated by Sunni politicians and the conscript army is predominantly a Sunni army. The Defence Minister is Sunni. The president’s wife is Sunni. Members of the business elite are mostly Sunni Muslims.

There must be recognition of the inclusive Sunni Islam practised in Syria, which is rooted in Sufi Islam not Wahhabism, the school of Islam aligned with the Saudi royal family the right and responsibility of Syrian people to defend themselves and their country against militias funded by both foreign governments and individuals who condone the killing of civilians who support the secular Syrian state the wide-ranging rights and freedoms that women have in Syria
the rights and freedoms people of different faiths have in Syria to practice their religion (Christmas and Easter are public holidays in Syria, just as Muslim holy days are.)the fact that more than 73% of Syrians eligible to vote participated in the June 2014 presidential election the fact that investigative journalists, members of the U.S. intelligence community, and M.I.T. academics maintain rebels were most likely responsible for the chemical attack in Damascus in August 2013.

Syria could be America’s key ally against ISIL and other terror groups. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to align with Saudi Arabia, a country where churches are banned and women are not permitted to drive, and a country that has funded and directed much of the insurgency, both ‘moderate’ and extreme, in Syria.

By supporting militia groups which are labelled ‘moderate’ but which target soldiers, public servants and secular Syrians just as ISIL does, the U.S. and its allies will entrench the chaos, destruction and death in Syria and the region. The pretext for U.S. military action in Syria is the beheading of two American journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley. However, in articles published before they were abducted, Sotloff and Foley exposed the brutality of the so-called moderate rebels. The truths they revealed and their courage in exposing them do not demand an alliance with ‘moderate’ rebels complicit in their killings; they demand support for peace and reconciliation in Syria.

The hatred being incited between Muslims to promote geopolitical wars in the Middle East will impact on communities across the globe. People everywhere risk losing their moral compass and compromising basic human values and belief systems which are needed to unite us and ensure peace and security for us all.

AMRIS calls for rigorous research of events in Syria in order to challenge partisan narratives.

AMRIS calls on the government to heed the wishes of the people of Syria; to support their army’s fight against terror groups; and to respect their right to work for peaceful political changes without foreign interference. We can honour our own freedoms, equalities and responsibilities in Australia by respecting those of Syrians.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Australia's treatment of asylum seekers at facilities like Manus Island has been condemned by the United Nations.

Asylum seeker death: Family's organ donation wish unable to be granted
Australia has been accused of a "chain of human rights violations" in its treatment of asylum seekers by the incoming United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein.
In his maiden address to the UN Human Rights Council, the Jordanian prince has also challenged plans to resettle those found to be refugees in "countries that are not adequately equipped".
In a copy of the address, to be delivered early on Tuesday morning, AEST, Prince Zeid castigates Australia over the policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers and the interception and turning back of vessels at sea.
He says the policy has led to human rights violations including "arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries".
A career diplomat, Prince Zeid took over the role from Navi Pillay of South Africa last month. His rebuke of Australia comes in a speech that begins by addressing escalating human rights violations in Syria and Iraq.
When he turns his attention to asylum seekers, Prince Zeid also expresses alarm at reports of children being detained in the United States and in Cyprus.
"Human rights are not reserved for citizens only, or for people with visas," he declares in the speech, obtained by Fairfax Media. "They are the inalienable rights of every individual, regardless of his or her location and migration status.
"A tendency to promote law enforcement and security paradigms at the expense of human rights frameworks dehumanises irregular migrants, enabling a climate of violence against them and further depriving them of the full protection of the law."
Prince Zeid also addresses the situation in Sri Lanka, urging officials to co-operate with a inquiry by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"I am alarmed at threats currently being levelled against the human rights community in Sri Lanka, as well as prospective victims and witnesses," he says. "I also deplore recent incitement and violence against the country's Muslim and Christian minorities."
Australia's Human Rights Law Centre seized on the address, saying it is "embarrassing". Australia's inhumane policies were listed in the speech along side global human rights challenges like the humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine and the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
"In his very first speech to the United Nations, addressing the most serious human rights issues in the world right now, the new High Commissioner devoted an entire paragraph to condemning Australia's treatment of asylum seekers," said the centre's director of legal advocacy, Daniel Webb.
Mr Webb said the speech demonstrated the seriousness with which Australia's "flagrant breaches of international law" were regarded on the world stage.
He said the policies of the current and the former government had clearly damaged Australia's international reputation – at a time when there are more displaced people in the world than since the end of the Second World War.

Read more:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cranky Old Man -

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!

Phyllis McCormack; adapted by Dave Griffith

The best and most beautiful things of this world can't be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Papua/Indonesia: French journalists and indigenous leader at risk of prosecution in Papua

Dear friends,

The International Coalition for Papua (ICP) is writing to inform you of an ongoing criminal investigation against two French journalists, Mr. Thomas Dandois and Ms. Valentine Bourrat in West Papua. The journalists are charged with articles concerning treason under the Penal Code and immigration crime under the Immigration Law. In addition to the journalist, the police hold an investigation against an indigenous leader in Lanny, Mr. Areki Wanimbo, whom the journalists met during their trip in West Papua. A human rights defender who has been seen with the journalists, Mr. Theo Hesegem, has also been summoned by the police.

A conflict area where human rights violations are rampant, Papua has been strictly isolated by the Indonesian government from international journalists and bodies. A special permit from the government is required for international journalists and institutions to legally visit the area. No such permit is needed to visit other parts of Indonesia.

In May 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Indonesian government to allow international journalists and the UN Special Procedures to visit Papua. Previously, in the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2012, a similar recommendation was given to the Indonesian government.

In accordance with international human rights standards and the international community’s demand, we unequivocally are of the view that restriction on international journalists and institutions visit to Papua should be lifted. We believe that such restriction and the arrest of the journalists as well as the Papuan leader in this case violate freedom of expression to which Indonesia has been repeatedly claiming itself to adhere.

We therefore request you to intervene in this case, by urging the relevant Indonesian authorities to drop the charges against Mr. Dandois, Ms. Bourrat, and Mr. Wanimbo. Activists providing assistance to them shall be free from intimidation, so that their human rights works are unhindered. Please also urge the authorities to open the access for international journalists and institutions to visit Papua.

Facts of the case
Mr. Dandois and Ms. Bourrat arrived in Wamena, West Papua, on August 5, 2014, on tourist visas. The two French journalists were on the mission of gathering information on human rights situation in Papua for a documentary they were working on for Arte TV. They visited the house of Mr. Wanimbo, a Papuan indigenous leader in Lanny, on August 6, 2014, to obtain details regarding the conflict between the Indonesian security forces and the National Liberation Army of West Papua (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat, TPNPB).

The journalists were accompanied by two Papuan human rights defenders, Mr. Hesegem and Mr. Logo, on their way back to the hotel. Mr. Hesegem who gave a lift to Ms. Bourrat on his motorbike, however, was followed and stopped by three unidentified police intelligence officers of Jayawijaya District Police. One of the officers was reported to make a phone call to the Chief of Jayawijaya District Police.

Mr. Hesegem was permitted to continue his trip with Ms. Bourrat, but the journalist was later arrested at the hotel. Meanwhile, Mr. Dandois and Mr. Logo were arrested on their way back in Jalan Bhayangkara. They were all taken to Jayawijaya District Police station.

After arresting the two journalists and Mr. Logo, the police arrested Mr. Wanimbo at his house, along with two other Papuans, Mr. Deni Dow and Mr. Wenda. They were also taken to Jayawijaya District Police station for interrogation.

The journalists and the Papuans were subject to interrogation for 24 hours without being accompanied by any legal counsel. On August 7, 2014, Mr. Logo, Mr. Dow, and Mr. Jornus Wenda were released without charge, whereas Mr. Dandois and Ms. Bourrat were taken to Papua Regional Police for further interrogation. They are charged with misuse of permit to stay under Article 122 of Immigration Law (Law No. 6 Year 2011), punishable by maximum imprisonment of five years and fine of IDR 500 million (approximately USD 42,740). It has been reported that the journalists are also charged with articles concerning treason attempt under Articles 106 and 110 in conjunction with Article 53 of the Penal Code for an allegation on providing ammunition to TPNPB.

For his meeting with the journalists, Mr. Wanimbo is charged with complicity to misuse a permit to stay. As the journalists, Mr. Wanimbo is additionally charged with treason attempt under Articles 106 and 110 in conjunction with Article 53 of the Penal Code, for the allegation on providing ammunition to TPNPB. The treason charge on Mr. Wanimbo is reported to be also based on his activity of collecting donation for a meeting on West Papua’s membership application to Melanesia Spearhead Groups (MSG).

Mr. Wanimbo is currently detained at Jayawijaya District Police, whereas Mr. Dandois and Ms. Bourrat are detained at Papua Regional Police.

Relevant information
International journalists visiting Papua for journalistic works are required to apply for a special permit from the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa has previously expressed that such permit is needed solely to ensure security of the journalists, considering the unstable situation in Papua.

According to Chairperson of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI) in Papua, Victor Mambor, permits for international journalists to conduct journalistic work in Papua are not easy to obtain. The application may take for up to three months. In several cases where such permits were granted, the journalists had to be accompanied by Indonesian government officials.

Four Dutch journalists were previously arrested and detained for 12 hours in 2009, for covering a demonstration in Jayapura.

Indonesia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Whereas Article 19 (3) of the ICCPR recognises that freedom of expression may be restricted in certain circumstances, the UN Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 34 has specifically noted that ‘it is normally incompatible with paragraph 3… to restrict the entry into the State party of foreign journalists’.

The Indonesian government has been repeatedly urged by the international bodies and other UN member states to lift its restriction on visits of international journalists to West Papua. At the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2012, France made a specific recommendation for Indonesia to ‘ensure free access for foreign journalists to Papua and West Papua’. In 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a similar measure to be undertaken.

How to help
Please write to the authorities listed at the end of this Urgent Action, urging them to take the following measures:

1. To drop charges against Mr. Dandois, Ms. Bourrat, and Mr. Wanimbo;
2. To ensure that any activist and human rights defenders providing assistance to the journalists are free from intimidation and legal threats;
3. To provide access for international journalists and institutions to conduct journalistic or human rights related works without restriction, in accordance with international human rights standards.

Urgent action targets
Mr. Marty Natalegawa
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Jl. Pejambon No. 6
Jakarta Pusat 10110
Telp: +62 21 344 1508
Fax: +62 21 280 551

Gen. Sutarman
Chief of the Indonesian National Police
Jl. Trunojoyo No. 3 Kebayoran Baru
Jakarta Selatan 12110
Tel: +62 21 523 4240, 384 8537
Fax: +62 21 720 7277

Mr. Yotje Mende
Chief of Papua Regional Police
Jl. Samratulangi No. 8 Jayapura
Tel: +62 967 531 014
Fax: +62 967 533 763

Ms. Harkristuti Harkrisnowo
General Director for Human Rights
Ministry of Law and Human Rights
Gedung Direktorat Jenderal Hak Asasi Manusia
Jl. HR Rasuna Said Kav 4-5
Kuningan, Jakarta Selatan
Telp: +62 21 252 1344
Fax: +62 21 4555 55676

Mr. Hafid Abbas
National Human Rights Commission
Jl. Latuharhary No. 4-B
Jakarta 10310
Tel: +62 21 392 5230
Fax: +62 21 392 5227

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hamid Kehazaei: The Australian government must explain why he received inadequate care

Processing asylum seekers is an immigration decision, but ensuring their health is an issue of human rights. The two positions are not, and must not be, mutually exclusive
Nick Talley, Wednesday 3 September 2014 Jump to comments (88)

Asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei. Photograph: Refugee Action Coalition
We should all be deeply concerned about reports of a 24-year-old Iranian, Hamid Kehazaei, recently flown to the Australian mainland from Manus Island after a cut on his foot developed into septicaemia. He is now on life support and the most recent reports are saying he is brain dead.
This case raises a whole host of questions. Was there a delay in diagnosis? Was there a delay in transferring him for medical treatment? While the facts of this case are still to be determined, what is becoming clear is the inadequate care being provided to people seeking asylum.
The standard of medical facilities in offshore detention must be questioned, as well as the timeliness of medical care. Delays in accessing necessary treatment mean that simple and easily treatable health conditions can deteriorate rapidly and become life threatening. The inadequate medical care received by people seeking asylum is having devastating consequences.
The Australian government says that they are providing health care services that are ‘broadly comparable with health services available within the Australian community’. I don’t believe this standard is being met. Had the Manus Island detention facility been adequately equipped to provide this young man with the healthcare he needed when he needed it, the outcome may have been very different.
The government has a lot of questions to answer. We need to know why this man did not receive adequate medical care in the first place. We need to know why there was a delay in transferring him once his condition deteriorated.
It is critical that the government is guided by independent expert medical advice, and that services are able to address complex health matters quickly and appropriately. Without this, it will be increasingly difficult for the government to respond to the growing concerns over conditions in offshore detention centres and the negative impact on asylum seeker health.
The government’s approach to processing asylum seekers is an immigration decision, but ensuring their health is an issue of human rights. The two positions are not, and must not be, mutually exclusive.
Professor Nick Talley is the president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
Read more

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Abbott's Team Christian Australia

Irfan Yusuf | 21 August 2014

Australia is a Christian country. We wear Christian clothes. We eat Christian food, speak Christian languages and play Christian sport. We also drive Christian cars on Christian roads. And we do all that because we say we have Christian values.

And when we're feeling a bit ecumenical and/or guilty for 2000 years of persecution culminating in the Holocaust, we say we have Judeo-Christian values.

Pardon the scepticism but I've lived here in Australia too long to believe all this 'Christian values' nonsense. And I won't be lectured about my alleged failure to integrate. I won't forget easily the 'Asians out' and 'STOP THE ASIAN INVASION' stickers on shop walls at the Blenheim Road shops. I also won't forget my then-Federal Member John Howard tell me in 1988 that Asians don't make a neat cultural fit into Australia.

I won't easily forget the kids (and in some cases, parents) at Ryde East Public School during the 1970s calling me a 'Paki' and 'nigger'.

My father's advice when I'd come home with a black eye was simple. 'If they hit you, hit them back!' My mum's advice was the same, except she preferred I use words of sarcasm and not bare fists.

'Tell them your skin is the same colour as the real Australians, the Aborigines'. The line didn't work. Now the kids at school started labelling me 'coon' and 'boong'. Logic just couldn't win.

The same bullies would grab my school bag and throw it on the road hoping a car would run it over. And the same bullies would ignore me and punch up a white kid from a different school. I never quite understood this phenomenon until one bully explained.

'It's because he's a f*cking Catholic!'

My experience of Australia as a kid was that it was a nation of bullies trying to protect their turf from anyone they perceived as outsiders. This usually meant people sufficiently different in the wrong way and for reasons beyond their control.

Perhaps this was Tony Abbott's experience growing up as an English Catholic migrant in a very Protestant Australia. Perhaps that is why he took up boxing as a young man, in the same manner as many young Indigenous and Lebanese men take up the sport. In self-defence he may have found a deep sense of empowerment. Abbott knew he had to fight his way into Team Australia.

Abbott must have known what it was like to have his faith pilloried and made the subject of public scorn. He also felt the pull of political Catholicism in the movement of an Italian migrant named Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria, whose anti-Communist views often translated into divisive positions on domestic and international politics, which many Catholics abhorred. That did not stop Abbott from sitting beside Santamaria's deathbed during the latter's final hours.

Australia's history since Federation has been dominated by the politics of exclusion and marginalisation. Minorities have been bludgeoned into joining 'Team Australia' by shedding what they could of their foreign dress, food and religion. They refused. They fought back. Since his days in the campus Democratic Clubs, Tony Abbott was amongst them.

So what now leads him to repeat the same divisive rhetoric? Why is he asking people to give up their legal rights as their price to join his Team Australia?

Abbott told Radio 2GB recently: 'Everyone has got to put this country, its interests, its values and its people first, and you don't migrate to this country unless you want to join our team'. But Mr Abbott didn't become a Protestant. He remained a Papist, part of a religious movement seen by many as putting the Vatican's interests before Australia's. He joined a movement led by a man accused of siding with dictators.

And consider this, Mr Abbott. Many Muslims did not migrate to Australia. Over 40 per cent were born here. They grew here. You flew (or perhaps sailed) here. Albanian Muslims have lived in Shepparton and Mareeba since the 1920s. Descendants of Afghan cameleers can be found across the country. Every major wave of Australian migration has included persons of Muslim heritage.

These people were, in many cases, part of Team Australia before you were born.

Our cultural warriors should familiarise themselves with the Sermon on the Mount or 1 Corinthians 13. They'll then recognise there isn't much Christian about their imbecilic 'Team Australia' yelling and chest beating.


Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and blogger of Muslim Indian heritage who recently moved from Sydney to Melbourne.


Irfan Yusuf