Illegal acts: boat people vs. the Australian Government

I was unfortunately travelling interstate when the latest series of Go Back to Where You Came From was on free to air on SBS. The last season was excellent, so we recorded it and last night Ang and I just started watching the series (we’re watching one episode a week.)

One of the myths that was repeated by a number of the participants in the program was that asylum seekers that enter Australia by boat (by illegal means) are breaking the law, therefore they are criminals. This is plainly false, here’s why:

Australia is signatory to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.”) This international legal instrument, to which we’re bound, clearly states on page 3 of its introduction (emphasis mine):

Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.

Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."

What this means is that, contrary to this popular myth, asylum seekers are not breaking the law in attempting entry to Australia. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the criminal act, according to international law, is being perpetrated by our Government. The bolded points in the passage above are all penalties that the Government has illegally introduced, in addition to striking certain islands literally off the map when it comes to immigration law.

Refugees from specific regions have been discriminated against, with asylum seekers from some regions being automatically refused refugee status, regardless of their case. All asylum seekers entering by boat are arbitrarily detained. During the Howard Government people that were found to be refugees were granted only Temporary Protection Visas, which restricted the rights and support that they received. In my view, this can only be viewed as a “penalty” for the method of entry.

If we could remove set aside the emotion that the issue of refugees seems to engender in this country, and focus instead on the rule of law, there are few things that are plain and (should be) self-evident.

If you agree that the Government should commit to international laws (such as trade agreements and other treaties), you must accept that we need to act in accordance with the laws we have agreed to be bound by.

And if you accept that Australia should be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, you must accept that we are bound to its provisions. If you don’t, you should be asking the Government to withdraw its support for the Refugee Convention. Or if you disagree with just these provisions, you should be advocating action being taken by the Australian Government to address these issues through the appropriate channels — that is through the mechanisms of the United Nations — rather than “jumping the queue” (to steal another myth/misnomer) and implementing measures that are illegal under international law. And until such time that those provisions are in place, we should be upholding the laws which we have signed.

The cost of the Iraq war

This isn’t going to be a long post, just a short observation.

Just before Christmas I read with great interest this piece in Time Last U.S. Troops Leave Iraq as War Ends about the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

I’ve been a long time opponent of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, which I believe was launched on false pretences. One of these was that Iraq was somehow involved in the Sept 11 attacks (it clearly wasn’t).

But even if we take that at face value (which I don’t), the final casualty rate from Sept 11 was just under 3,000.

The Time article notes:

The mission cost nearly 4,500 American and well more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury.

So the Iraq invasion, the retaliation of sorts, cost 1,000 more lives than the initial attacks, and cost more than the $700 billion bail-out of the US banks during the GFC.

Iraq Body Count estimates that civilian — i.e. non-combatant — casualties alone are greater than 100,000. A 22:1 ratio of Iraqi to American casualties. (I feel it important to note that estimates of civilian deaths while Saddam was in power are higher than this figure.)

As Time notes, “The question of whether it was worth it all is yet unanswered.” Indeed.

(White) Australia Day

Every year I approach the “Australia Day” holiday with a sense of agitation. I want to celebrate my country, but to hold the holiday as a marking of the British invasion of this country has long been of concern to me. (As an aside, in the lead up to this year’s event, Ang and I were considering ways that we could show solidarity with the first Australians on the day – sadly we weren’t that successful – suggestions welcome…).

With that in mind, I think Mick Dodson’s suggestion that the date be changed is a worthy one. If Australia Day is truly about celebrating inclusiveness and everything we love about this country, and we have any respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we should emphatically not be “celebrating” on this day.

Imagine if your ancestors were nearly wiped out by a colonial power, only to have the “national day of celebration” occur on the first day of that offensive? How would you feel?

The fact that Rudd isn’t even willing to have the conversation, likely due to the political ramifications of accepting to do so (it would be political suicide), is a sign of how deeply ingrained the racism, especially towards this nation’s original owners, is in this country. Why shouldn’t this be on the national agenda? It makes that word “Sorry” sound hollow…

This is an opportunity to step beyond the empty rhetoric and actually acknowledge what really happened when this country was “settled”. Sadly, it may take far too long before we see that step taken…

Anyways – News Limited is running a poll on whether or not the date should be changed – feel free to add your voice. At the moment it seems the crowd is oblivious to the problems with calling 26 January “Australia Day”.

Disproportionate force

Israel has reportedly lost 8 people in the current conflict, 3 of those civilians. Palestinian casualties amount to over 668 , make that 774, with civilian deaths at around 50% according to the UN.

The recent attacks on a school in Gaza raised the death toll by as many as 42 people, including 13 children.

I have yet to find any details of deaths related to the Hamas rocket attacks that supposedly justify Israel’s massive military offensive (though I’d be interested to learn more if anyone has links).

I was watching the 7:30 Report last night on the ABC and a UN representative responded to the school massacre. He passionately yet eloquently spoke against Israel’s attacks, calling for an immediate cessation to hostilities (on both sides) and called for international humanitarian law to be upheld (i.e. for Israel to cease attacks on civilian-populated areas and Hamas to not use human shields – which it should be added there is scant evidence of outside of IOF statements as far as I can tell). During the interview he used the words “disproportionate use of force”.

Given these statistics, I’d have to say I agree with his conclusion…

Ban the bombs

GetUp’s latest campaign action: Ban the bombs:

As the international community is meeting in Dublin to ban cluster bombs – that saturate the ground with mini-bombs awaiting innocent civilians – our government is going out of its way to frustrate the process.

They’re calling for their own stockpile to be excluded – and for the treaty to be watered down. We’ve got just a few scarce days left before the fragile international agreement is drafted.

The petition calls on Kevin Rudd to support the ban without loopholes or exceptions…

Expression = prison

Amnesty International: Expression = prison: Hu Jia.

Tibet has (rightly) been in the spotlight of late, but this is a timeline reminder that these human rights abuses continue to occur throughout the country. I dearly hope that the spotlight remains firmly on these abuses in the leadup to the Olympics.

It is these kind of sentences that create the culture of self-censorship within the Chinese community.

Rebecca McKinnon suggests that we can’t expect too much to change – I hope that at least the embarrassments and increased pressure do at least help move things for the better, at least in some way.

Uncensor China

This is a cross-post from the Zumio blog.

Just a quick note to mention that yesterday, Amnesty International Australia’s Uncensor site was launched. This is the project I’ve been involved in, though the work I’m doing isn’t on the site yet.

The site is part of Amnesty’s campaign in the lead up to the Olympics being held in August in China, focusing on internet censorship and repression. I’ve been following the blog for a couple of days now and the writing there is excellent – really informative.

The “Search for Freedom” function (in the right sidebar) shows first hand China’s censorship regime at work, and clearly highlights how Google is participating in the “Golden Shield” system.

You may have heard about the Fuwa, the Chinese Olympics mascot. Well it seems that they left someone out – meet Nu Wa the Uncensor mascot. Nu Wa (who’s name means “outraged, angry young boy”, wants to set the record straight by speaking about the human rights abuses suffered by people in China.

I really dig the site, as does Priscilla. Well worth checking out…

Another action for Tibet

Again, fromAshley:

Another urgent online action for Tibet – this one is to ask the IOC to intervene and ensure that the olympic torch doesn’t go through Tibet (including Lhasa and Mt Everest). The Chinese government are planning these stops on the torch relay to try and legitimise their occupation of Tibet. At this point in time, we have grave concerns that if the torch were to go through parts of Tibet it would only inflame the already tense situation, leading to further protests and likely violent reprisals from the large Chinese military presence now assembled in Tibet.

(More from Ashley, who is an active member of the Australia Tibet Council, on the situation here.)

The email action is here.

And GetUp now have an action targeting our PM:

As Australians, we are in a unique position right now to help stop the cultural genocide taking place in Tibet. That’s because Kevin Rudd is visiting Beijing to meet the Chinese President and Premier – the two men who are able to put an end to this crisis. With the impending Beijing Olympics, where the world’s eyes will focus on China, we have a once in a decade chance to make a real difference.

The GetUp action is here.

Tibet petition

I got this from my friend Ashley (who rarely sends this kind of thing I might add) via email and I think it’s worth supporting/promoting:

I just signed an urgent petition calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights in Tibet and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama. This is really important, and I thought you might want to take action.

After nearly 50 years of Chinese rule, the Tibetans are sending out a global cry for change. But violence is spreading across Tibet and neighbouring regions, and the Chinese regime is right now considering a choice between increasing brutality or dialogue, that could determine the future of Tibet and China.

We can affect this historic choice. China does care about its international reputation. Its economy is totally dependent on “Made in China” exports that we all buy, and it is keen to make the Olympics in Beijing this summer a celebration of a new China that is a respected world power.

President Hu needs to hear that ‘Brand China’ and the Olympics can succeed only if he makes the right choice. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get his attention. Click below to join me and sign a petition to President Hu calling for restraint in Tibet and dialogue with the Dalai Lama — and tell absolutely everyone you can right away. The petition is organized by Avaaz, and they are urgently aiming to reach 1 million signatures to deliver directly to Chinese officials.

Thank you so much for your help!