Saturday, October 1, 2011

Australian treatment of asylum seekers 'global embarrassment', says Shetty


Image : Tehran Times

SALIL SHETTY, secretary-general of Amnesty International, has been an outspoken advocate for the Global South who doesn't pull punches. He has travelled extensively in his first year since taking the helm of the international human rights group and has put priority on building globall grassroots links and has paid close attention to the Arab Spring. He stewardship is a refreshing era. It isn't surprising given his own role as former director of the United Nations Millennium Programme where he campaigned against poverty and his earlier background in Bangalore, India: "With his mother active in women’s groups and his [journalist] father with the Dalit movement, his home became a hub for local and national activists. Since his student days, when a state of emergency was declared in 1976, and as the president of his college student’s union, Salil Shetty has been actively campaigning against the curtailment of human rights."

Now his attention is currently on Downunder. He has already rapped Australia over its own human rights record, especially over asylum seekers, and he will be in New Zealand tomorrow. This is what he had to say about Australia in the ABC's Nightline interview:

The chief of Amnesty International says Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and Indigenous people is deeply disturbing and an international embarrassment.

In his first interview while in Australia, Amnesty secretary-general Salil Shetty told ABC's
Lateline that Western nations, including Australia, were rapidly losing credibility when it came to human rights.

He says the Federal government's stymied Malaysia Solution is not in line with international refugee laws.


"Australia should know better," he said.
"It is simply not acceptable because they are very familiar with what is acceptable legally and what is not.

"There is a legal side and also a humane side.


"I don't believe it is in consonance with Australian people's values either. I think it is wrong on all counts."


Amnesty International also remains critical of the Northern Territory intervention.


Shetty says it breaches the Racial Discrimination Act, and talks down to Indigenous people.


"That is the other blight on the otherwise decent human rights record and we are talking about a half a million people," he said.


"Sometimes people think that we are talking about a handful of people, but if you look at the current practices and policies in the Northern Territory what it is doing effectively is widening the gap, not closing the gap."


After visiting remote Indigenous communities and a detention centre, Shetty will meet Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd and other politicians in a fortnight.


"This is a very critical moment ... on the issue of asylum seekers and the issue in the way in which they are addressing the Aboriginal people's problems. They have to really raise the game and meet their international obligations," he said.


Shetty says it is one thing to meet and speak with a politician, the question he asks is what will they do with the information.


Criticism of the West

Shetty also warns Western countries to stop lecturing other failing countries and acting as the world's sheriffs or deputy sheriff.


"If they are going to be lecturing people that have to shape up domestically and in their foreign policies, it is a kind of shape up or shut up message," he said.


The West is already under fire for its inconsistent response to the current turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.


Shetty says the international action in Libya has not been matched in the troubled countries of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.


"Cosying up to [Moamar] Gaddafi but also cosying up to [Hosni] Mubarak before that, but I mean [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali - there was this American sort of thing: 'he might be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch' kind of thing," he said.


"The people in the Middle East and North Africa and indeed in many developing countries look at all of these interventions with a great deal of suspicion."


Amnesty's chief also points to other areas as worrying: the use of the death penalty in the United States, most recently the execution of Troy Davis, and the US use of torture in the war on terrorism.


"This is simply unacceptable and this is where the issue of double standards and hypocrisy really starts to show up," he said.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Behind the 'French farce' and Kiwi rugby arrogance


French coach Marc Lièvremont ... pensive. Photo: Planet Rugby

EXTRAORDINARY HYPE in the New Zealand media this week about the alleged France "B" team playing the All Blacks this weekend in the Rugby World Cup. In fact, 11 of the French players have tasted victory (plus two among the reserves) over New Zealand, and some twice! This thanks to KiwiRooster:

The likes of Peter Bills and Chris Rattue are not exactly what we call journalists of investigation, they are more into the trashy business of making sensational stories. Hence the reason why Peter Bills does not feel he has to justify his rant by telling us which French players he would have selected. Not mentioning the fact that Peter Bills does not represent the whole of New Zealand, maybe not even part of Great Britain, given he is apparently British.

Anyone who has watched the French games against Japan then Canada must have realised that neither Trinh-Duc nor Harinordoquy performed well. (That's an understatement). Bonnaire and Parra did much better. Now, to call that team second string is utterly arrogant:

Poux(*)- Swarzweski(*) - Ducalcon

Bonnaire(*) - Picamoles(**) - Dussautoir(*)


Yachvili(*) - Parra


Medard(**) - Mermoz(**) - Rougerie(*) - Clerc(*)


Traille(*)


On the bench: Harinordoquy(*) and Servat (*) might come in as impact players.


(*) players from the RWC 2007 Cardiff game


(**) players from the 2009 Dunedin game


Ducalcon and Forestier (who is unfortunately not in this World Cup) formed the best forward pack in the whole French championship with their club Castres Olympiques this season. For any French supporters it is not a surprise to see him here, especially since Thomas Domingo is injured and Sylvain Marconnet got smashed to pieces by pretty much every prop in this squad.


Allez les Bleues!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forum flagship initiative for homegrown Pacific journalism


MELBOURNE-based Fiji academic and commentator Dr Mosese Waqa (caricature) had some kind words to say about the Pacific Scoop coverage of the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum earlier this month. He wasn't alone, a heap of praise was thrown towards our postgraduate students who were on the job. Some 47 stories (many of them in-depth) were filed along with a couple of video reports and photojournalism packages. See the above VJ report by Christopher Chang and Alexander Winkler as an example. Waqa writes:

Without Pacific Media Watch [read Pacific Scoop], the overall media coverage of the PIF annual meeting at Auckland would have been mediocre at best.

What I like about your coverage is the diversity in the issues covered by your team (big and small, ones that have a "traditional fit" and ones "outside the box" etc). Most interesting and most encouraging indeed in terms of demonstrating institutional commitment in capacity building for the long term, you committed yourselves in supporting actual journalism students in asking the questions (some of them ground breaking, like the West Papua question to UN Gen Sec., that the mainstream media quickly dropped) and being the reporters themselves.


I truly think, this is a flagship initiative for homegrown Pacific journalism in the region and hopefully you can also create similar platforms in the future for creating synergies for Asia-Pacific collaborations, helping our neighbours have a better understanding of the Pacific - now that the United Nations (and indeed the international community) has adopted a more inclusive tag for the Asia group of nations to become Asia-Pacific Group.


Vinaka Vakalevu to the all the
Pacific Media Watch team members. Bring it on guys!!!!

Many thanks Mo. And just a quick word of clarification:

The credit is due to the Pacific Scoop project team done in partnership between the independent Scoop Media group and AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. Pacific Media Watch is another PMC project, which included carrying summaries of the student daily Forum file. The team (part of the postgraduate Asia-Pacific Journalism course) was led by Alex Perrottet, PMW's contributing editor, who was chief reporter for the team. The accredited student journalists were: International students involved in the coverage (NZ unless listed otherwise) were: Karen Abplanalp, Kim Austin, Christopher Chang, Chen Bei (China), Nigel Moffiet, Idoko Ojabo (Nigeria), Sarah Robson, Alexander Winkler (Germany), Henry Yamo (Papua New Guinea) and Victoria Young. Kiribati Independent editor Taberannang Korauaba, an AUT graduate, was also part of the team. Take a bow, guys.

Also worth mentioning is Scoop co-editor and general manager Alastair Thompson's message to the students:

David, Congratulations to you and your team on the coverage. I think this has been the best reported Pacific Islands Forum ever - by your team in particular. And in doing such a marvellous job you have set a new bar of professionalism for student/industry journalism projects.

I would also note that you have more than doubled Pacific Scoop's regular traffic for the period ... Finally I think it is worth making the point that while the PIF is important, it is unfortunately very underplayed and misunderstood by the New Zealand media.

The contrast of the sympathic and engaged coverage which you have provided has filled a gap and in many ways shown the professionals how the job ought be done. Sadly resources like those which you provided to this forum are seldom available for any media event in NZ.


Moreover, by providing such a comprehensive window on the myriad of issues facing the nations of the Pacific as you have done - while the diplomatic communities of NZ, Australia, the UN and the EU are watching closely - you have done the Pacific and its peoples a fantastic service.


Thank you and best regards

Alastair Thompson

Scoop.co.nz
Co-Editor

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pacific Islands Forum shuns West Papuan issue


Photo: Del Abcede / PMC

THE MOST astonishing unreported story in this week’s Pacific Island Forum in Auckland was a remarkable shift by the United Nations chief over West Papua. And the local media barely noticed. For all the hoo-ha about “converting potential into opportunity” at the predictable annual political talkfest, this was the most dramatic moment.

It was thanks to the probing of a young Papua New Guinean journalist studying in New Zealand who knew the right question to ask. But the significance was lost on local journalists – and even the Pacific and international journalists present. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested that the West Papuan issue should be discussed by the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.

What? Coming in the wake of the Indonesian repression in West Papua throughout August in the face of a wave of unrest by Papuans more determined than ever for self-determination, this was almost unbelievable.
Question: [unclear] With regards to human rights - for more than 42 years, there’s a struggle in West Papua as people seeking their [own] government in the province of West Papua.

What is the United Nations stand on that?


BKM: This issue should also be discussed at the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. And when it comes again, whether you are an independent state or a non-self-governing territory or whatever, the human rights is inalienable and a fundamental principle of the United Nations.


We will do all to ensure that people in West Papua, their human rights will be respected.


Question: Does a human rights fact-finding mission has be dispatched to West Papua at some time?


BKM: That is the same answer [to a previous question on Fiji] that should be discussed at the Human Rights Council amongst the member states.
Normally the Secretary General acts on the basis of a mandate given by inter-governmental bodies.
Because journalist Henry Yamo’s question was overshadowed by queries about Fiji, it probably slipped below the media radar. Was it a slip-up that officials were keen to brush aside? However, NGOs such as the Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee were quick to seize on the moment. Overnight a media declaration was produced by 15 Australian and NZ NGO signatories with the help of four West Papuans being hosted on the AUT University marae.

They called for the UN Secretary-General to:
  • appoint a Special Representative to investigate the situation in West Papua – to review the circumstances and outcome of the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’, as well as the contemporary situation; and

  • use his good offices to persuade the Indonesian government to allow free access to West Papua for media representatives from the international community and for non-governmental human rights organisations.
The statement also called on the Pacific Islands Forum to:
  • send a fact-finding mission to West Papua to investigate the human rights situation;

  • support the West Papuan people in their call for peaceful dialogue with the Indonesian government;

  • grant observer status to West Papuan representatives who support the people of West Papua’s right of self-determination; and

  • recommend to the United Nations General Assembly that West Papua be put back on the agenda of the Decolonisation Committee.
But the Forum simply ignored the West Papua issue.

In spite of a West Papuan protest outside the Forum opening and later at the summit hotel, the local media were only interested in a parallel protest against the Fiji military regime and the Forum communiqué failed to mention West Papua. Hypocrisy. While the Forum has already welcomed New Caledonia and French Polynesia as associate member status, and Timor-Leste (another former Indonesian former colonial possession) as an observer and is now granting American Samoa the same privileges, it remains silent about the atrocities and human rights violations in a Melanesian territory of the Pacific.

At the West Papuan protest, Green MP Catherine Delahunty grabbed a protest placard and tried to attract the interest of Pacific delegates in the plight of the Papuans. A gagged young man who was symbolically “locked up” in a bamboo cage, also had a story to tell. He was Amatus Douw, one of 43 Papuan political asylum seekers who fled to Australian in 2006. The other marae-based activists were Dr John Ondawame (West Papua People’s Representative Office in Vanuatu); Rex Rumakiek (secretary-general of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation - WPCNL); and Paula Makabory ( Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights – IPAHR).

The absence of West Papua from the final communiqué was not the only blot on the Forum’s outcomes. While New Zealand was busy talking up the success of the Forum – “[Murray] McCully scores with his A-list forum”, as the New Zealand Herald billed it – most social justice and human rights issues were sidelined. There were structural problems too.

Violence against women
Although the issue of Sexual and gender-based violence against women was cited in the communiqué again this year, it was remarkable that media took little notice. Amnesty International collected a petition of 21,000 signatures and to his credit, President Anote Tong, accepted this while no other Pacific leader did.

But the media took even less interest, apart from reports by the student journalist team from Pacific Scoop. Jocelyn Lai of the Young Women’s Christian Association spoke harrowing tales and provided case studies of violence against women and girls in the Solomon Islands, a culture of silence and impunity because of the stigma. A report about Solomon Islands slums denied sanitation and safety was devastating, yet no SI journalist turned up for this let alone any other Forum journalists. Two thirds of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 had experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners and other family members.

In fact, the Forum’s engagement with civil society was dismal. While Pacific leaders recognised in the communiqué many of the issues identified by civil society were ones already on the regional agenda. There is still much rhetoric and not enough action. Female representation, or rather lack of it, is nothing short of “scandalous”. Move over Gulf Arab states, the Pacific is far worse. Six out of the world’s 10 countries without female representation are in the Pacific.

Little will change politically in the Pacific region without more women and greater diversity in the parliamentary representation. Yet women’s and other civil society groups were largely marginalised, if not actually excluded, by the Forum establishment elite. Next year in the Cook Islands an actual “dialogue” is needed between the region’s political leaders and the NGOs.

Think tank excluded
An independent think tank, the Pacific Policy Institute based in Vanuatu, was actually excluded from the Forum. While the conservative Australian-based Lowy Institute enjoyed a privileged position, including having a day-long conference in an Auckland hotel just two days before the Forum opened and had the opportunity to launch a controversial Fiji opinion poll, its opposite number – a real Pacific think tank, was being denied any accreditation.

It is believed that this is because of its policy on Fiji where it seeks “positive engagement”.

The Forum wasn’t all negative by any means. It certainly put the “Pacific” of Aotearoa on a world map with the presence of UN and European Union at the top level – plus the largest Chinese and US delegations - in a manner that has never been achieved previously in four decades of leader summits. The opening Pacific Showcase at the Cloud on Queens Wharf is a drawcard. And NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully can take the credit for this.

Also some NGOs welcomed the “responsiveness” of Forum leaders to climate change needs, civil society involvement in the future and the UN Arms Trade Treaty. Trade still remains a problem – it has been a very thorny issue in the past – and while Fiji will now be allowed back into the Pacer Plus (a pragmatic decisions based on necessity rather than any “softening up” of policies by Australia and NZ), negotiations are still likely to be delicate. Fiji has achieved some diplomatic successes in recent months and may force Australia and New Zealand to take a more pragmatic line rather than leaving a regional political void to China.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pacific violence against women – an ‘epic’ human rights disaster left on the Forum margins


Peering into a contaminated water well: The Solomon Islands report on sanitation and safety in the Solomon Islands. Pictured below: Joycelyn Lai of the SI Young Women's Christian Association and the 20,000 signatures of the Amnesty International petition in support of Pacific women's human rights.

HARDLY surprising for the Pacific cynics. At the beginning of the Pacific Islands Forum week, Wadan Narsey warned in an article for Pacific Scoop about five "real" issues important to the region but unlikely to get too much attention in the Auckland 40th anniversary talkfest in the shadow of the World Cup. How right he was, by the end of the week many of the issues were still marginalised. Top of his list:

1. The liberation of West Papua: “It is a sad indictment of the past few years of PIF gatherings that 'Big Power Diplomacy' has emasculated the Forum Island Countries (FIC) from expressing their solidarity with the oppressed Melanesian people of West Papua.” Out of the 192-odd Forum accredited journalists, only three were present for a major public about the 'forgotten' issue with an outpouring from three West Papuan human rights activists.

2. Labour mobility: Only two locally accredited journalists were present for a seminar attended by 20 Pacific journalists about NZ’s recognised seasonal employment (RSE) scheme involving more than 7000 workers.

3. Defence cooperation: No serious discussion about this topic, which involves a proposal for a surplus of Pacific islands labour being recruited for the Australian and NZ military forces and navy, especially Tuvaluans and i-Kiribati.

4. Ending rugby colonialism: For all the hype about the Rugby World Cup, there was previous little debate about a better deal for Pacific rugby in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from the white-dominated Australia and NZ rugby administrations and governments. (Wouldn't it be a delight if Tonga actually beat the All Blacks like Samoa dealt to Australia in July).

“But Canberra and Wellington don’t mind refusing visas to any rugby player related to anyone in the military regime [of Fiji]. Rugby in the Pacific is not just sports, but also part of the economy, and trade earning valuable foreign exchange. It could also become a great boost to Pacific tourism. But with lack of support from Canberra and Wellington, their rugby unions have let a great opportunity fort FICs go begging for more than a decade."

5. PACER Plus: “It is guaranteed that PACER Plus negotiations will drag on for years. Pacific Island politicians and civil servants won’t mind because they are guaranteed endless free trips to meetings and conferences, while endless compromises are sought on every little issue. Someone needs to do a PhD on the endless trivial negotiations over the dead PICTA horse.”

But as Nic Maclellan reported for Islands Business: “As leaders gather in Auckland there are serious obstacles to regional trade talks, including the resignation of Chief Trade Adviser Chris Noonan, allegations of Australian bullying over OCTA’s funding and a recommendation from Forum officials that leaders reject OCTA’s bid for observer status with the Forum.

"The OCTA (Office of the Chief Trade Adviser) crisis comes at the same time as political developments in Fiji complicate trade policy for the regional organisation.”

Languishing in the sidelines outside the shortlist of Dr Narsey – who incidentally was recently forced to step down from his economics professorship from the University of the South Pacific in scandalous circumstances after pressure from the Fiji regime over his outspokenness – was another thorny issue: the trampling of human rights of women and girls in the Pacific.

At the launching of Amnesty International’s report on the plight of women in the Solomon Islands “Where is the dignity in that?” before a packed audience at AUT University, there was no journalist to be seen. Wrong. Two young journalists were actually there - Victoria Young attached to the Pacific Media Centre, who wrote an excellent article, and a Nigerian male journalist Myles Idoko Ojabo, who also filed a good piece. Some comments from the address by Amnesty International Aotearoa’s chief executive Patrick Holmes are worth noting here:

The issue of violence against women in the Pacific is a human rights issue of epic proportions and the need to address it is urgent. As leaders meet for the Forum leaders’ meeting in Auckland this week, daughters, sisters, mothers and wives continue to be beaten, raped and killed. Many of the accounts that Amnesty International has received are truely horrific and yet so often the issue does not make headlines. This violence is not only a reality; it is our reality and it is one we all have a responsibility to address.

Gender discrimination in the region is systemic and permeates through all levels of society. Violence against women is the ultimate physical manifestation of this entrenched discrimination and the human rights violations that occur are perpetuated by inadequate and outdated legislation throughout the region. Some Pacific Island constitutions even fail to prohibit discrimination based on “sex” or “gender” and in those countries whose constitutions do prohibit discrimination, it is not enforced. In many Pacific nations marital rape is not a crime.

Simply put, it is not illegal for men to rape their wives. In Papua New Guinea cultural practices such as bride prices, polygamy and sorcery all serve to deepen the discrimination and violence felt by women. If you are considered a piece of property, it is very difficult to instil the understanding that you have rights, that you are part of the fabric of humanity. But this understanding is not impossible to achieve. While the issue is complex and at times seems overwhelming, effective legal protection for women can be achieved.

The reality is that violence against women in the region is rife with some nations having the worst rates out of any country on earth. On average two out of every three Pacific women have suffered abuse. In Kiribati 68 percent of women have been abused and violence against women in the Marshall Islands has been reported to be at almost 90 percent. With figures such as these, it is sadly unsurprising that sexual and gender based violence is considered standard practice by many in the region.

Amnesty International has statistics from a recent survey in Samoa showing that 85 percent of women who had been abused never asked any formal agency for help. Of these, the same percentage failed to do so because they thought such abuse was the “norm”, or “not serious enough”.
...
In recent years some small progress has been made. In Cairn’s in 2009 at the Pacific Island Forum leaders’ meeting, Pacific leaders recognised gender-based violence as a risk to human security and a potential destabilising factor for communities and societies alike. In a milestone decision for Pacific women, Pacific leaders pledged to take action to eradicate sexual and gender based violence.

For the first time in 40 years, the widespread issue of violence against women in the region was taken seriously by Pacific leaders. In 2010 in Vanuatu Pacific leaders commended actions in the region to take forward the directions from Cairns and acknowledged the initiative of the Forum Regional Security Committee to establish a Reference Group on sexual and gender based violence to support the Forum Secretariat and national efforts to address the issue.
Since then, the Reference Group has met in Fiji and conducted country visits to Tonga and the Solomon Islands; meeting with a range of stake holders and interest groups.

But these promises, policies and draft bills, while significant for setting the foundations to address the issue, nevertheless, do nothing to protect Pacific women and their families from violence.

In Amnesty International’s largest petition ever in New Zealand, well over 20,000 individuals have called on Pacific leaders to: make their country a safe and secure place for women and their families; to put in place laws to prevent violence, punish offenders, and compensate survivors; and to sign, ratify and put into practice international human rights conventions that protect women from violence.

This number of signatures is one fifth of the population of Tonga, two times the population of Nauru and over 10 times the population of Niue. The size of this petition shows the depth of concern of the public for Pacific women to have real protection from violence.

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