Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Human Rights Day 2018: just an anthology

December 10, 2018

There is so much going on on this day – International Human Rights Day – that I can only give a cursory overview of some highlights in 2018 like I did in previous years [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/09/sampling-international-human-rights-day-2016-be-a-human-rights-defender/, and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/11/human-rights-day-2017-in-asia-mind-the-gap/]. Here is my selection of 10: Read the rest of this entry »

MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat suffers under Australia’s endless detention policy

December 4, 2018

 wrote for Al-Jazeera about “Manus and the deepening despair of Australia’s endless detention policy”, saying that fellow refugees are the only lifeline for men who wonder whether they will ever escape the remote Pacific island where they have been held for more than five years under Australia’s harsh off-shore detention policies. His focus is on MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/finalists-mea-2019/]. As interviews with this man are difficult to come by, here the full story:

Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He's now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]
Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He’s now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea – Aziz Abdul Muhamat had agreed to meet me for an interview near the East Lorengau refugee transit centre at eight in the morning. The 25-year-old Sudanese man is a nominee for a global human rights prize – the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award – for his advocacy work on behalf of his fellow refugees on Manus Island. He has been a refugee on this remote Pacific island, part of Papua New Guinea, for more than five-and-a-half years.

But Muhamat wasn’t answering messages. Later, I would learn that it was because he’d been up until the early hours, giving words of hope to desperate men – men who have been self-harming. Men have been dousing themselves in petrol. Men suffering from depression, grief and anxiety, marooned on an island and withdrawn deep inside themselves.

‘Transition centres’

As of October, there were around 500 male refugees remaining on Manus. Perhaps another 100 were asylum seekers whose bid to be recognised as refugees had failed. Getting precise data on them – and whether they have moved to the capital, Port Moresby – from Australia’s government has been consistently hard for years. Luck was not on the side of these men when they tried to get to Australia from Indonesia, coming face-to-face with a new Australian policy to halt boat arrivals once and for all – and, according to the government, stop deaths at sea. From 2013, authorities began intercepting boats and taking those on board to Australia’s Christmas Island. Eventually, the refugees were flown to Manus or the tiny republic of Nauru. With the agreement of the government in Port Moresby, it was decided that the men on Manus would be housed in an Australian navy base. The detention centre was shut in late 2017 – its last remaining men violently ejected and moved on to “transition centres” – after a large cohort spent several weeks resisting the power, water, food and medicine cuts, gaining a sizeable amount of media coverage. For many, though, the only transition was to a deeper state of despair.

Muhamat was at the forefront of the refusal to leave the centre, borne from a glimpse of freedom when the men were suddenly reminded of the power that came from being able to make their own decisions on when to shower or sleep. “I never felt that I’m free in five-and-a-half years, except those 24 days,” he said. “I felt that people are calling my name, ‘Aziz’, instead of Q and K and zero, zero two.

Suicide attempts

Australia closed its main detention camp on Manus Island a year ago and the men now live in ‘transition centres’ with only rudimentary support; those at the East Lorengau centre protested against the conditions last month [Al Jazeera]

Having been moved from the prison-like detention centre, the refugees are now in poorly-serviced camps which they are free to leave. But most stay put. A much-vaunted “US deal” to allow these refugees to settle in the United States is their remaining hope, but for many, it is fading fast. More than 400 people formerly held in Nauru – where Australia detained families and children – and Manus Island have already been resettled in the US  The ones I’ve spoken to have jobs, rented apartments, cars – in short, new lives. Of course, they’re still scarred from their time in detention, but they’re off the islands. 

But many Iranians, Sudanese, Somalis and others are simply not being accepted by the administration of President Donald Trump under the deal struck by the government of his predecessor, Barack Obama. They have either been outright rejected, or have applied for resettlement and spent the year in vain waiting for replies.

A mental health crisis grips the remaining men. Suicide attempts and self-harm are rife. As the stress and anxiety increase, men like Muhamat and the Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Bouchani continue to work round-the-clock providing impromptu counselling to their grief-stricken friends and counterparts. Australia’s government has repeatedly promised that these men will “never” settle in Australia, lest “people smugglers” begin selling their product once more. The hope that came with news of the so-called US deal has for some become an unbearable disappointment. 

In the face of that, I’m struck at the incredible strength of character on display by many of the young men I met. “We tell these men, we give them false hope for them to go and sleep,” Muhamat said one afternoon as we sat in my hotel room. “We do it because we want to keep them positive, we want to keep them alive.” When asked if he needed to head back at any time to deal with the desperate messages coming up on his phone, he replied: “It’s OK, Behrouz is there.” 

The despair is as great as at any time in the past five-and-a-half years. For Muhamat, the day-to-day ritual of helping others over the years – liaising with journalists and lawyers, teaching English to other refugees, talking friends out of self-harm and suicide – has been part and parcel of survival. “As long as what I’m doing, people are getting a benefit out of it, I don’t actually feel that pressure,” Muhamat said. At the time of writing, a newly-elected independent member of parliament from Sydney is attempting to get a bill through the parliament which would see the evacuation of psychologically or physically ill men from Manus.

But glimmers of hope come and go on Manus. Later, I see a message from a refugee reporting a man’s attempted suicide, his second in two days. After he fails to hang himself, he tries another desperate act – overdosing on tablets and drinking shampoo.

https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/12/manus-deepening-despair-australia-endless-detention-policy-181203070732724.html

Breaking news: Ennals Award announces its 3 finalists for 2019

October 24, 2018

The following three Human Rights Defenders have been selected as Finalists for the 2019 Martin Ennals Award:

Eren Keskin (Turkey)

Eren Keskin is a lawyer and human rights activist. For more than thirty years, she has struggled for fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey, especially for the Kurds, women and the LGBTI+ community.Within the context of the worsening human rights situation in Turkey, Keskin is once again at the centre of intimidation attempts.  As part of a solidarity campaign to support the Özgür Gündem newspaper, Keskin held the title of “editor-in-chief” of the newspaper from 2013 to 2016, when it was closed by the authorities.On 30 March 2018, she was convicted and sentenced to 12.5 years in jail for having published articles deemed to have “degraded” the Turkish nation and “insulted” the Turkish president.  She is currently free while the case is appealed. She stated: “To defend human rights is not easy in our territory.  I am being prosecuted with 143 charges for my solidarity with an opposition newspaper in the context of freedom of expression. International awards and solidarity have “protective” characteristics and reassure those of us in repressive societies. It also it gives us a morale boost and helps our motivation for the struggle. Thank you for not forgetting us. Your solidarity and protection mean so much. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/26/eren-keskin-human-rights-defender-from-turkey-receives-2018-anna-lindh-prize/]

Marino Cordoba Berrio (Colombia)

A member of the Afro-Colombian ethnic group, he led his community as they faced the loss of their land to powerful commercial interests, notably in logging and mining. After successfully working towards the legal recognition of their community’s land rights, much of his community was driven out by force in 1996. Constant threats and attacks drove him to seek asylum in the United States in 2002 where he built a network of supporters. He returned to Colombia in 2012 and worked to ensure a role for ethnic communities in the peace agreement, notably as a member of “Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights ” that provides input as the peace agreement is implemented.  He has regularly received death threats and is under constant armed guard. He stated,   “We have historically been excluded politically, socially and economically, also affected by war, providing measures of overcoming is a primary responsibility of the State. I believe in the power of my mind and my hands as a determinant to do what is right, therefore the justice that is applied to my people is crucial for their survival. It is also in our hands to promote those changes so this effort involves exposing my own life.”

Abdul Aziz Muhamat (Papua New Guinea/Australia)

Abdul Aziz Muhamat (Aziz), from Sudan, is a compelling and tireless advocate for refugee rights. Seeking asylum,he has been held in Australian immigration detention on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea since October 2013, when his boat was intercepted by the Australian authorities. Aziz has seen friends die. He has been shot at by local police. He was also sent to a local prison for refusing to eat in protest at the cruelty and suffering being inflicted on others. Aziz is one of the primary public voices among the men held on Manus Island. Despite the isolated location, he has exposed the harsh conditions there through podcasts and media interviews. He has paid a price for this as he is seen as a “ring leader” by both the PNG and Australian authorities. He stated:   “My work to expose this cruel system helps preserve my self-respect and inherent human dignity. It helps me fight for the rights of every refugee around the universe, which I’ll do until my last breath. It is not always easy when living under conditions of fear and persecution. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery, courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state and I will do everything to keep going.”

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide:

  • Amnesty International,
  • Human Rights Watch,
  • Human Rights First,
  • FIDH – Int’l Federation for Human Rights,
  • World Organisation Against Torture,
  • Front Line Defenders,
  • International Commission of Jurists,
  • Brot fuer die Welt
  • International Service for Human Rights,
  • HURIDOCS

For more information on the award see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/martin-ennals-award-for-human-rights-defenders

Fo more information on the candidates see: www.martinennalsaward.org or contact: Michael Khambatta +41 79 474 8208 khambattaATmartinennalsaward.org

The 2019 Martin Ennals Award will be presented on 13 February 2019 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.

Profile of Human Rights Defender Sarah Dale in Australia

October 24, 2018

Human Rights Defender Sarah Dale works for asylum seekers in Australia. This is another of the profiles recently published by European External Action Service (EEAS) in the context of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/04/chia-wei-chi-first-in-series-of-videos-by-european-external-action-service/].

https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/51513/human-rights-defenders-sarah-dale-australia_en

 

Laureates of the 2018 Right Livelihood Award announced

September 24, 2018

The Laureates of this year’s Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, have been announced this morning at the International Press Centre at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, Sweden.  This years’ Honorary Award goes to anti-corruption champions Thelma Aldana (Guatemala) & Iván Velásquez (Colombia). The three cash awards go to civil and human rights defenders Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair (Saudi Arabia), the farmer Yacouba Sawadogo (Burkina Faso), known as “the man who stopped the desert”, and the agronomist Tony Rinaudo (Australia). See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/28/saudi-arabia-imprisoned-waleed-abu-al-khair-receives-another-human-rights-award/https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/mohammad-fahd-al-qahtani; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/abdullah-al-hamid/

The Laureates’ trailblazing work for accountability, democracy and the regeneration of degraded land gives tremendous hope and deserves the world’s highest attention. At a time of alarming environmental decline and failing political leadership, they show the way forward into a very different future,” comments Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. For more on the award see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/right-livelihood-award

The Award presentation will take place on 23 November at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, followed by public events and high-level meetings in Geneva, Zurich and Berlin.

 

Which danger poses a 71-year old nun in the Philippines?

April 17, 2018

The climate of fear and repression in the Philippines is nicely demonstrated by the arrest (followed by a quick release order) of a 71-old year Australian nun Patricia Fox.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has ordered the release of Australian nun Patricia Fox after a day in detention.

Officers of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) arrested Sister Patricia Fox, Philippine superior of the international Catholic congregation Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, at her convent in Quezon City on April 16. Although the prosecutor in charge, “found no probable cause” for her arrest and ordered the nun’s “release for further investigation,” immigration officials insisted on the nun’s detention. They said Sister Fox failed to surrender her passport to the bureau. The nun said her documents were with a travel agency. Sister Fox was being detained at the bureau’s intelligence division. Immigration officials have accused the nun, who has worked in rural communities for 27 years, of being an “undesirable alien” for joining protest rallies and visiting political prisoners.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the BI said Commissioner Jaime Morente approved Fox’s release “after it was established that the Australian nun holds a valid missionary visa and, thus she is a properly documented alien.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Fox recently joined the International Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission in Mindanao. In 2013, she was also detained for joining protests in Hacienda Luisita but was released without charges. ..Various groups staged a protest Tuesday, condemning Fox’s arrest and calling for her immediate release. They said her arrest was part of the government’s crackdown against critics and human rights defenders.

 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/17/meet-some-of-the-women-human-rights-defenders-on-dutertes-list-of-500/

http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2018/04/17/Immigration-bureau-Australian-nun-Patricia-Fox-release.html

https://www.ucanews.com/news/philippine-authorities-arrest-71-year-old-australian-nun/82076

University of New South Wales adds to its human rights institute

December 8, 2017

UNSW’s new centre of innovation on human rights is taking shape as the world marks Human Rights Day on 10 December.

eleanor_roosevelt.jpg

Former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Announced by UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs earlier this year, the Australian Human Rights Institute will further the interdisciplinary aims of the University’s 2025 Strategy  UNSW’s investment in the institute of $13 million to 2025 will allow research to be applied to real-world human rights violations, making an impact on communities in Australia and around the world when they are most in need of innovative responses.

Research will be focused on three areas: human rights and business, human rights and health, and gender justice. Australian Human Rights Institute Director Professor Louise Chappell says the new work will build on the strong foundations of the Australian Human Rights Centre, established in the Faculty of Law in 1986 and led for the past 13 years by Professor Andrea Durbach.

A cross-cutting theme emerging for the institute is the rapid advancement in technology, which has some negative human rights implications but also offers interesting new solutions. “It’s really clear that AI could create further frightening aspects of violence such as remotely controlling what’s happening in someone’s house,” Professor Chappell says. “But that same technology could also be turned around by victims of domestic violence, in this case, so that they’re able to protect themselves and link to support networks faster than ever before.”

Another aim of the Institute is to mentor the next cohort of rights defenders, linking emerging scholars with senior experts and UNSW’s deep networks in the human rights field.

The Institute will launch in early 2018 and is planning a program of lectures and other events to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If you like to get updates about the Australian Human Rights Institute, sign up for emails here.

https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/business-law/new-unsw-institute-takes-shape-world-marks-human-rights-day

Black Lives Matter awarded 2017 Sydney Peace Prize and spotlights Australia’s racial issues

October 31, 2017

This seems to be the year that human rights awards go broad groups of people. After the Ebert Prize to the  South Korean people [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/18/korean-people-win-friedrich-ebert-human-rights-award-for-candlelight-rallies/] and the EP’s Sakharov award to the Venezuelan opposition [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/27/european-parliaments-sakharov-prize-awarded-to-venezuela-opposition/], the Sydney Peace Prize 2017 has gone to the Black Lives Matter Global Network. This is the first time that a movement and not a person has been awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. Three of the founders will receive the award on 2 November. For more on the award: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sydney-peace-prize

On 30 October, Trevor Marshallsea of AP reported from Sydney that this award has put also the spotlights Australia’s racial issues:

The Associated Press – in this 26 January, 2017 file photo Aboriginal activists carry a banner during an Australia Day protest in Adelaide, Australia. The awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Black Lives Matter for its work on American race issues is being hailed but Australian activists say such issues need to be addressed at home as well. (Tim Dornin/AAP Image via AP)

Patrisse Cullors, one of the group’s co-founders, welcomed the award “in solidarity with the organizations and organizers of Australia who had and still have faced oppression.” The social media hashtag with which it shares its name began after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013. It gained traction when a police officer fatally shot another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri the following year, sparking protests.

http://sydneypeacefoundation.org.au/peace-prize-recipients/black-lives-matter/

Black Lives Matter award spotlights Australia racial issues – ABC News

Four young women human rights defenders speak out

September 21, 2017

Millennials often get a bad rap, accused of being politically apathetic and selfie-obsessed, says SARA VIDA COUMANS in Open Democracy of 15 September 2017, but around the world, young people who are sick of government inaction are stepping up to speak passionately on behalf of their communities. These four young women live in different continents and have had diverse experiences. Each is involved in Amnesty International campaigns, fighting for human rights from Australia to Peru. Here they talk about their local struggles, and what motivates them. (“We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too”)


Madeline Wells, indigenous rights activist in Tasmania.

Madeline Wells.

Madeline Wells. Photo: Lara Van Raay. All rights reserved.

“As a First Nations person, I have always felt I have a duty to fight for the rights of my people, a feeling of being part of something much bigger than me,” she said. “Activism can come in many different forms. It doesn’t have to be rallies or marches.” Climate change disproportionately impacts indigenous communities, and indigenous youth “face many other injustices: deaths in custody, high rates of youth detention, racism and discrimination, high suicide rates, and poor healthcare,” she added. “Activism can come in many different forms. It doesn’t have to be rallies or marches – art, music and dance are equally powerful ways of speaking out, and social media has had a huge impact.”


Nancy Herz, student and author from Norway.

Nancy Herz.

Nancy Herz. Photo: Vincent Hansen. All rights reserved.

In 2016 Herz wrote an article entitled “We Are the Shameless Arab Women and Our Time Starts Now” – and a movement of women reclaiming the word “shameless” subsequently started in Norway. “We don’t want to have our identities defined by others,” she said. “We don’t want to have our identities defined by others.” “I feel so proud when I receive messages from young girls who say I have encouraged them to speak out – that because I dare to be myself, they do too,” said Herz. “This is what fighting against injustice is about. By using our voices, we can make the space for freedom of expression bigger…it’s an ongoing struggle, but I believe that we have to keep pushing towards a world in which everyone can enjoy their basic right of living freely.”


Sandra Mwarania, youth activist from Kenya.

Sandra Mwarania.

Sandra Mwarania. Photo: Kenneth Kigunda / Amnesty International Kenya. All rights reserved.

Mwarania co-founded the Student Consortium for Human Rights Advocacy. “Young people are brilliant creatives, strategic thinkers, problem solvers, innovative communicators and active doers,” she said. “It is unfortunate that we are yet to be taken seriously by decision-makers who still perceive us as inexperienced and rowdy.” “We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too.” “As well as being well-informed on human rights issues, students and young people need the skills to address the pressing socio-political issues around them,” Mwarania added. “When young people are engaged at every level of the decision making process, the results can be amazing. We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too.”


Fabiola Arce, women’s rights defender from Peru.

Fabiola Arce (holding megaphone).

Fabiola Arce (holding megaphone) in #NiUnaMenos protest in Lima, Peru, 2016. Photo: Andrick Astonitas / Amnesty International Peru.

Arce has campaigned to pressure her government to investigate cases of forced sterilisation of women in the 1990s. “This serious human rights violation mostly targeted indigenous women, and caused a huge amount of pain and suffering,” she said. “Peru has a huge historical debt to women, and that’s part of what motivates me.” “We are determined not to let the injustices of the past go unaccounted for. Peru has a huge historical debt to women, and that’s part of what motivates me to work towards shaping a different future.”

Amnesty International’s BRAVE campaign works with young women human rights defenders like these and fights for their recognition and protection. Find out more.

Source: “We’re not just here to learn – we can lead too”: young women human rights defenders speak out | openDemocracy

Controversial film ‘The Opposition’ to be shown in Geneva on19 April but Australian court to rule on 14 April

April 12, 2016

In the lead up to the Universal Periodic Review of Papua New Guinea, two NGOs – the International Service for Human Rights and Media Stockade -organise an exclusive screening of the documentary film ‘The Opposition’ and discussion with director Hollie Fifer and Dr Kristian Lasslet from International State Crimes Initiative. The Opposition asks how we can ethically build sustainable business in developing countries. In a David-and-Goliath battle over a slice of Papua New Guinea’s paradise, Joe Moses, leader of the Paga Hill Settlement, struggles to save his 3,000 people before they are evicted. Battling it out in the courts, Joe may find his community replaced with an international five-star hotel and marina. In a recent twist, production company Media Stockade and director Hollie Fifer have been hit with a legal suit over the upcoming release of the film. On Thursday 14 April, a judge in the New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney, Australia will decide if the case will go to trial. At stake is whether the film will be able to be released or not. Media Stockade stands its director who has conducted a piece of legitimate investigative reporting in the public interest.

The screening takes place on 19 April 2016 at 15h30 in the Rue de Varembé 1, ground floor, Geneva. Please note this event is a private screening and is by invitation only (and places are strictly limited). If you want to be invited you have to contact the organizers before Friday 15 April.

Source: Film Screening: ‘The Opposition’, Tuesday 19 April, 3.30pm