Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Behrouz Boochani gives interview in New Zealand – finally out of Manus island

December 1, 2019

Boochani in 2018 outside an abandoned naval base on Manus Island where he was kept for three years. Photo/Getty Images

On 28 November, 2019 Sally Blundel inteviewed Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. The award winning refugee [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/04/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-major-literary-prize-putting-more-pressure-on-detention-policy/] was invited to New Zealand. Where he will be after his month-long visa expires, he cannot say, but he will still write, he says, this time a novel. “Because literature has the power to give us freedom. Because through literature we can challenge the power structure.”

In a quiet suburban Christchurch garden, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, poet and film-maker Behrouz Boochani, cigarette in hand, paces out three large steps. “We lived in a very small room, from here to here, four of us. On Manus you didn’t have privacy or space. Finding the time and quiet to write was the hardest thing.”

But find time he did, to write poems and articles, film a documentary on a smartphone and tap out an entire book, furtively sent paragraph by paragraph via What’sApp text messages, chronicling the squalid conditions, medical neglect, mental anguish, suicide, even murder, experienced by asylum seekers held on Manus Island under Australia’s “stop the boats” policy.

It is six years since Boochani was pulled from a sinking boat just days out of Indonesia and taken to Australia’s “offshore processing centre” on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It is just over a week since he left Port Moresby to fly to Auckland, taking a route that avoided Australia, to speak at Christchurch’s WORD book festival as a free man. “I got my freedom through literature,” he says.

Boochani knows the power of words. As a journalist in Iran in 2013, he reported on the arrest and detention of his colleagues on Kurdish-language magazine Werya in Ilam, north-west Iran. His fellow journalists were eventually released – they attributed their survival to Boochani’s article – but by then he was in danger. He fled, travelling through South-east Asia to Indonesia where, in July that year, he was among a group of 75 men, women and children who boarded an unseaworthy boat heading for Australia. The vessel’s bilge pump failed in rough seas. When rescued by the Royal Australian Navy, Boochani requested asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Instead, he and his fellow asylum seekers were incarcerated on Christmas Island before being transferred to the Manus Island detention centre as part of Australia’s “Pacific Solution II”.

………To write his book, he adopted a new routine, sleeping from 6pm until 11pm when everyone was too busy to note his absence. From 11pm, he would write under the blankets until 8am, then sleep until noon. In 2016, after the PNG Supreme Court declared the indefinite detention of asylum seekers to be unlawful, phones were no longer prohibited. Each night, he would sit outside, smoking, writing, absorbing as much of the natural environment as he could from his side of the prison fence. “For the prisoner who is alone, nature is so important,” he says. “Always, it is a place you can escape to – even the sky, they cannot take the sky away. But it is very harsh to look up at the many birds flying and knowing you cannot follow them.”

….

“If someone asked me to write this book again, of course I am able to write it, but I could not write it this way. When I describe starving, I was starving. When I describe the characters, those people were around me in prison. It is the same with the feelings. In that camp people rely on each other; there’s a culture of brotherhood because there is no space, but there’s also a kind of hatred because you are so tired of having so many other people around you. I have lost those feelings now, but in prison they were true feelings.”

Boochani in Christchurch. Photo/Getty Images

Through articles sent to the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Refugees Action Collective and the United Nations, and the support of a global network of writers, translators, academics and activists, including Australia’s Janet Galbraith, founder of online project Writing Through Fences, Boochani refused to let the thousands of asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru fade from public gaze. In 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Australia’s offshore processing centres as “unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to human rights” (New Zealand’s offers under National first, then Labour, to settle at least 150 detainees were rejected by successive Australian prime ministers).

……

Plea for release

But within the camp the book also drew attention to Boochani himself. This year, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for Australia’s creative professionals, sent an open letter to the Government of Scott Morrison urging Boochani’s release. Signed by prominent journalists and writers, including Tom Keneally Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Kate Grenville and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, it said, “We are deeply concerned for Behrouz Boochani’s welfare and safety. The success of his book and his status as a journalist have made him a target of the Manus authorities; a danger that has only increased with his rising profile.”

In June, WORD Christchurch programme director Rachael King invited Boochani to speak at a special festival event. Especially after the city’s March 15 mosque shootings, she explained, “it felt important to share the stories of refugees”.

With help from author Lloyd Jones, whose recent book The Cage is itself a dark parable about the human capacity for inhumanity, she was able to email her invitation directly to Boochani. Boochani was receptive to the idea. By then he was one of more than 300 people moved from Manus Island to Port Moresby. He was hoping to be part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal with the US (he was later accepted for this programme), but he wanted to wait until the Manus Island camp was finally closed.

“It would have been immoral for me to leave those people in Manus, to create a platform and have this privilege and this recognition, because it is about all our resistance – it was not only for me.”

In October, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, told Parliament “we’ve completely closed” the Manus Island facility. By then, only three asylum seekers were left on the island. The remaining detainees still in Papua New Guinea were in Port Moresby, including a reported 46 held in Bomana Prison.

New Zealand funds much-needed human rights monitoring in the Pacific

August 22, 2019

Susan Randolph – Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mackenzie Smith

New Zealand is supporting a new rollout of human rights monitoring in the Pacific. Funding of $US400,000 will allow the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) to expand its programmes in the region. The non-profit organisation which is holding workshops in Auckland this week said it would use the money to build data sets on economic and social rights in the Pacific. Its development lead Anne-Marie Brook said it was the first time they had accepted money from a government and a clause had to be inserted into its contract with New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry to safeguard HRMI’s independence.

[see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/07/pacific-human-rights-defenders-can-do-more-to-deal-with-extractive-industries/]

Because human rights are so politically sensitive, it’s really clear that human rights needs to be measured independently of government because governments often face conflicts of interest,” she said. HRMI’s data on the Pacific is porous and often anecdotal, according to its economic and social rights lead Susan Randolph. The funding would allow more comprehensive data to be collected to help Pacific governments and civil society groups tackle human rights abuses, she said.

In Tuvalu, where the country’s first human rights institution was set up only late last year, the Chief Ombudsman Sa’aga Talu Teafa said they were still figuring out the best approach. “It’s very young, we call it very young. That’s why we are here to learn and to know what other institutions or what other human rights defenders are doing regarding human rights implementation,” he said.

It’s the same in Samoa, where recently the Ombudsman’s office, finding no data on violence, had to come up with its own to produce a report.

Tuvalu Chief Ombudsman, Sa'aga Talu Teafahome.

Tuvalu Chief Ombudsman, Sa’aga Talu Teafahome. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mackenzie Smith

New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s Pasifika advisor Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Vaine Samu said the Pacific had a history of resistance to human rights monitoring because of faith-based systems. “Our religions, our faiths, our churches, are very, very important to us. But so are our traditional, cultural, ancestral beliefs as well,” she said. “At hui like this we are able to come together, fono, and talk about these issues, these mindsets, so that we can advance human rights forward.”

https://www.newsie.co.nz/news/160079-nz-funds-human-rights-monitoring-pacific.html

After Christchurch: reflecting on how the internet is exploited by extremists

March 18, 2019

Although strictly speaking not about human rights defenders and not really giving new insights, this long piece in the Huffington Post of 16 March 2019 is worth reading in full because it is a good overview of how the internet and extremist aspirations go hand-in-hand. For those who want to read it in full:

Mass Shooters Have Exploited The Internet For Years. New Zealand Took It To A New Level. – The Christchurch massacre was built on existing far-right memes that fueled a live-streaming gunman’s viral aspirations

Read the rest of this entry »

U.N. Rapporteur on Myanmar called “whore” by radical Buddhist monk

January 21, 2015

Myanmar monk's U.N. whore rant
Wirathu:”Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn’t make you an honourable woman. In our country, you are just a whore,”

For those who think that hate speech has no place in peace-loving Buddhism, this is sobering item:

A radical Myanmar Buddhist monk, Wirathu,  called the U.N. human rights envoy – Ms Yanghee Lee –  a “whore”, and accused Lee of bias towards Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine. Wirathu denounced Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar before a cheering crowd of several hundred people, in a speech in Yangon on Friday, after she questioned draft laws that critics say discriminate against women and non-Buddhists. “You can offer your arse to the kalars if you so wish but you are not selling off our Rakhine State,” he said. Kalars is a derogatory word for people of South Asian descent.

His speech was condemned by Thawbita, a leading member of the progressive Saffron Revolution Buddhist Monks Network in Mandalay, where Wirathu is also based. “The words used that day are very sad and disappointing. It is an act that could hurt Buddhism very badly,” Thawbita told Reuters. But he is unlikely to face censure. A senior official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs told Reuters there were no plans to act against Wirathu. This is the more remarkable as in December a New Zealander and two Burmese were charged with insulting Buddhism. The arrest was triggered by a complaint by an official from the country’s religious department. [see: http://news/world-asia-30527443]

 

Rapporteur Lee in a statement released by her office on Monday said:  “During my visit I was personally subjected to the kind of sexist intimidation that female human rights defenders experience when advocating on controversial issues“.

Myanmar monk’s U.N. whore rant “could hurt Buddhism” | Asia-Pasific | Worldbulletin News.

Two national level human rights awards (Uganda and West Papua)

July 4, 2014

Although I try to be as complete as possible on international human rights awards (see http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/), there is a plethora of interesting awards at the national level of which follow here two examples: 

1. Uganda: The annual “European Union Human Rights Defenders Award” is given by the EU Member States, Norway and the EU Delegation in Uganda to recognise the achievements of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda. In 2014 the award (which could be named more clearly) is shared among:

  • Ms. Gladys Canogura, Executive Director of Kitgum Women Peace Initiative.
  • Ms. Christine AlaloC, Head Uganda Police Child and Family Protection Unit.
  • Mr. Mohammed Ndifuna, Chief Executive Officer Human Rights Network Uganda.

Dr. Simone Knapp, Head of the Austrian Development Cooperation in Uganda and host of the 2014 Ceremony stated the following: “Human rights defenders and civil society organisations are indispensable partners for governments, the European Union and equally the United Nations in highlighting violations of human rights and analysing their causes. The internet and social media tools have enabled sharing of information and concerns even more effectively. They are the ones that work in the field every day and experience first-hand what the great challenges are to the realisation of all human rights. At the same time, human rights defenders, the same as journalists, face increasing harassment, inhibition and even violence as a consequence of their commitment to human rights. We must better protect human rights defenders and promote their work. Civil Society can help us develop policies and instruments for tackling these challenges.”  

http://www.norway.go.ug/News_and_events/pressrelease/Winners-of-the-2014-EU-Human-Rights-Defenders-Award/#.U7b5tyjKzZQ

2. West Papua: Two New Zealanders have been awarded the 2014 John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award for their work pushing for improved human rights in Indonesia’s Papua region. The West Papua Advocacy Team says the Green Party’s Catherine Delahunty has challenged the New Zealand governments community policing project in Papua and sought to provide a platform for Papuan rights advocates in the New Zealand Parliament. The Advocacy Team says the second recipient, activist Maire Leadbeater, has worked tirelessly to inform New Zealand about the human rights crisis in West Papua. Ms Delahunty says she is honoured to be considered.”There are many people working all around the world and the Pacific to support the campaign for human rights and independence in West Papua. Im one of the small players, have got the privilege of working in Parliament with the Green Party fully supporting my work. So yes, it’s an incredible honour, I was most surprised to receive it and very, very humbled.” John Rumbiak had worked in Papua for many years, raising concerns on human rights issues.

via NZers win West Papua advocacy award | Radio New Zealand News.