23 March 2006
Harmony Day March 21st, is the day chosen by the Australian Government for Australians to reflect upon and celebrate this countries success as a diverse, harmonious and multi-cultural society, to re-commit to the shared values of respect and goodwill towards our fellow citizens of all backgrounds and to reject racism.
The Day also coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which was proclaimed by the UN in 1966 in response to the Sharpeville massacre on 21st Mar 1960, when 69 South Africans died during their participation in a peaceful protest against the 'pass laws' then in operation under South Africa’s apartheid regime.
This year Harmony Day also falls during the Commonwealth Games when thousands of athletes and visitors from the 71 nations that comprise the Commonwealth have gathered and been welcomed in Melbourne to compete in a spirit of goodwill and unity in 16 sports over 11 days.
A feature of the Commonwealth Games is the participation of countries with tiny populations and limited resources, nations such as the Pacific Island nation of Niue (pop 2,100)
The athletes representing such countries have been warmly applauded by the large crowds who have enthusiastically supported the games events and generously acknowledged the performances of all athletes, regardless of their ability.
Often however, the attitude of the public and media also appears to have been characterized by an emphasis on winning and by a parochial sense of nationalism.
In the midst of the extensive media coverage, some journalists have reflected on some issues of deeper significance in regard to the Games. In an article in the Melbourne ‘Age’ "Humanity before Hubris at the Games” Simon Mann noted the trend towards staging ever more lavish opening ceremonies for such events.
Rather than spending millions of dollars in an effort to outdo previous games, Mann suggested the Melbourne games organizers "could have made a stand and acknowledged the gross inequities in the Commonwealth itself ….. Instead of blowing $50 million on its opening and closing ceremonies, and another $7 million on its river celebrations, Melbourne could have honoured the spirit of the Games with a gesture likely to make a real difference to the countries that compete in them"
Mann pointed out that more than seventy percent of the competing nations are developing nations facing life and death issues of which ordinary Australians (and for that matter Britons, Canadians, New Zealanders) have little real understanding.
For example "Just 50 per cent of Ugandans can access safe drinking water. In Sierra Leone only three out of 10 youths can read and write. Half of Bangladeshi children under five are underweight due to malnutrition," whilst Tuvalu the near neighbour of Niue, faces the prospect of ceasing to exist, let alone compete in future Commonwealth Games, given the predicted effects of climate change.
The human rights of victims of trafficking need to be at the centre of efforts to combat human trafficking both in Australia and internationally according to the report submitted on behalf of fourteen Australian Religious Congregations to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in New York earlier this year.
This was just one of twenty one recommendations to the Australian government contained in the report which, while recognizing that significant advances had been made toward the elimination of trafficking in Australia in recent years, expressed the belief that much more could be done to effectively address the issue.
As part of their efforts to raise awareness in regard to the problem of trafficking in Australia the Good Shepherd Social Justice Network has established a Trafficking in Persons Clearinghouse a web-based resource which aims to be a central access point for information on the global problem of trafficking in persons, drawing together relevant material on human trafficking in the Australian region in particular.
Specifically, the clearinghouse aims to promote avid conversation on trafficking in persons and related issues through:
- the provision of published and unpublished resources, including both print and audio-visual materials;
- the provision of information regarding projects aimed at combating trafficking in persons;
- information on relevant news and upcoming events; and
- links to other national and international websites and resources.
A copy of the CEDAW shadow report is also available on the website.
Earlier this year, 43 West Papuan refugees landed in Australia after a 250km voyage across the ocean in a dug-out canoe, and requested asylum.
Herman Wainggai, a spokesman for the Papuan refugees, said that they had fled their homes because they were concerned that the Indonesian military was planning to target them. Some of the 43 have been arrested and tortured in the past for their non-violent resistance to the Indonesian occupation of their country. If they were to be deported to Indonesia or West Papua, they would all fear for their lives.
However to this point the Australian government has not granted them asylum. Australia has close ties with Indonesia, and just as happened with East Timor, seems reluctant to upset its powerful neighbour over what it sees as minor issues of human rights and 'territorial integrity'.
Campaigns have commenced in Australia calling for the Papuans to be released into the community on 'bridging visas' and to create a groundswell of public support to grant asylum to the 43 Papuan refugees.
For information about the history of West Papua and its takeover by Indonesia, and for details about the campaign on behalf of the asylum seekers visit the Free West Papua website.
UPDATE AS THIS BULLETIN WAS BEING ISSUED THE NEWS WAS ANNOUNCED THAT THE WEST PAPUAN ASYLUM SEEKERS HAD BEEN GRANTED 3 YEAR TEMPORARY PROTECTION VISAS TO REMAIN IN AUSTRALIA
9 March 2006
About 70 students and teachers from all Edmund Rice Schools in Victoria gathered at St Kevins College last week for a justice seminar. Included in the activities of the day was a presentation from a representative of Project Respect who provided information and insights relating to the issue of the trafficking of women into Australia for the purposes of prostitution.
Whilst things such as poverty, immigration, organized crime, etc relating to the ‘supply’ side of the ‘sex industry’ were addressed, students were also challenged to consider what attitudes in Australian society contributed to the demand for such services.
Some points raised by students in the discussion that followed included
- do I respect all women the way I would respect my mother and sisters eg in conversation?
- the use of prostitutes is more about domination and control than genuine relationship. How do I build healthy relationships in my life?
- how would I respond when my ‘mates’ suggest organizing a ‘bucks night’?
- what is my attitude towards pornography and the illusory view of relationships it presents?
Students resolved to build greater awareness around this issue in their school communities and to urge the government to adopt a more sympathetic and supportive stance for women trafficked into this country.
The continued detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay without trial, or in most cases without even being charged, was criticised by Cardinal Renato Martino president of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on his return from Cuba recently.
"It seems clear that human dignity is not being fully respected in that prison" he said, referring to the Guantanamo Bay camp recently described by Amnesty International as "A human rights scandal"
"Is not the trampling of man's dignity a violation of human rights? Everyone has a right to a fair trial. Wherever in the world inmates are being held in such conditions, without even knowing the charges they face, we will not fail to defend them," said Cardinal Martino.
"I would like to stress that even those who have committed crimes are still human beings and as such their dignity must be respected".
The camp was set up in 2002 to hold foreign terror suspects, many of them captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among the detainees is David Hicks formerly of Adelaide, who has been at Guantanamo since his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001. (clicking on the link will take you to a website campaigning for fair treatment of David Hicks)
Hicks has been charged with conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy; apparently because he trained with al-Qaeda, spent some time guarding a Taliban tank at Kandahar airport and allegedly travelled to Konduz in northern Afghanistan with the intention to join the Taliban who were then engaged in combat against US-led forces. There is no allegation that Hicks killed, specifically harmed anyone or even took part in any fighting, and of course as there is still no firm date for a trial, there has been no opportunity for Hicks to defend the charges.
The deliberate denial of the legal rights of those accused in the case of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners has been widely condemned by legal authorities around the world including the Law Council of Australia the peak body representing legal practitioners in this country.
A new website documenting progress toward the establishment of a new expression of action for justice has been established by Br Donal Leader the Congregational promoter for advocacy and justice for the Christian Brothers.
This new initiative aims to bring about greater global solidarity with the poor and to act on behalf of children through the establishment of NGO structures affiliated to and accredited with the United Nations. This new structure may well take the form of an incorporated entity to be known as Edmund Rice International
The website features news, articles, resources and links relating to advocacy and justice. Photos and reflections relating to the recent Justice Symposium in Kolkata feature prominently.
The season of Lent in Australia is accompanied by the traditional 'Project Compassion' appeal conducted by Caritas
The focus of Project Compassion is fundraising. Funds raised support the development projects undertaken by Caritas on behalf of many of the poor of our world and the relief work provided in the aftermath of disasters such as the recent Philippines landslide and the Central Asian earthquake – an obvious and important role that has always had prominence in the life of the Church.
This was emphasised again in the recent letter of Pope Benedict XVI
"The Church can never be exempted from practising charity as an organized activity of believers, and on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love."- ‘Deus Caritas Est’ Article 29
In the same letter however, Benedict also stressed the importance of justice – something that has not always received the same attention in the history of the church.
Whilst acknowledging that the creation of a just society is primarily the responsibility of the state, Benedict states that
The Church…cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice - ‘Deus Caritas Est’ Article 28 and
"The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society… is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote … the common good."- ‘Deus Caritas Est’ Article 29
This bulletin is intended to assist members of the Edmund Rice Network fulfill that duty to work for the just ordering of society.