14 May 2008


The examination of the Human Rights record of Zambia under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Mechanism took place in Geneva on 9th May.

The operation of the UPR requires the country under review (in this case Zambia) to first submit a self-assessment of its performance in upholding and promoting Human Rights. It is intended that this report should be prepared in consultation with the civil society sector in Zambia.

Any NGO is also free to submit a report about any issue of human rights about which concern exists. A summary of these concerns is prepared by the UN Secretariat and made available to all interested parties. Whilst NGO’s may not participate directly in the UPR hearings they can lobby sympathetic nation-states to raise a particular issue of concern through a direct question or recommendation to the nation under review.

Whilst it is ultimately up to that nation to act on a recommendation or not, the potential for embarrassment in an international forum (particularly if widespread concern exists about a particular issue) can be sufficient incentive for the government to take action.

The joint Franciscans International and Edmund Rice International submission highlighted educational issues relating to primary education and funding of community schools, particularly in poorer urban and rural areas.

The full text of the Zambian Government report, a summary of civil society submissions (including the joint FI/ERI submission) and the final recommendations to Zambia emerging from the UPR process can be viewed on the Human Rights Council webpage.


As part of the newly established Universal Perodic Review (UPR) procedure Franciscans International and partner NGOs submitted a report on abuses of Human Rights in West Papua last month.

As a follow-up to the UPR, FI submitted a shadow report on torture in West Papua to the Committee against Torture. FI’s shadow report is the first comprehensive account of individual cases of torture in West Papua from 1998 to present.

The report was developed in association with grassroots partners SKP Jayapura, the Christian Evangelical Church of Papua and the faith based NGO network on West Papua.

During the UPR process the Indonesian government was questioned by a number of States in regard to the Human Rights situation in West Papua. This was very encouraging to those NGOS that have for a long time tried to attract media attention to the troubling level of abuse of Human Rights in the region.

An executive summary of the issues raised and a copy of the full report are available for download from the above website.


Last September the General Assembly of the United Nations passed the historic Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was supported by 144 countries but Australia was one of only 4 countries, together with the US, Canada and NZ, to oppose the Declaration.

The current Australian Government has said it would consult with stakeholders about reversing Australia's opposition to the Declaration. (The Canadian Parliament also recently stated that it will end its opposition).

A draft letter emanating from the Human Rights Law Resource Centre in Melbourne has been circulated addressed to key members of the Australian Government urging endorsement of the Declaration. Interested individuals are encouraged to send their own copy of the letter to the Prime Minister and other relevant ministers.

The following points are made in the letter;-
- endorsement of the Declaration sends a strong signal that the government is genuinely committed to upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and improving their lives.
- the objections put forward by the previous government to supporting the Declaration lacked a sound basis, misinterpreted international law and included unfounded concerns about the potential for the over-riding of domestic law.
- the Declaration is important because it elaborates upon standards that nation states and their public institutions should aspire to, respect and achieve in their relationships with indigenous communities and organizations.

I am happy to forward a the text of the letter to anyone who would like to receive it.


The announcement by the Australian Government of the ending of the Temporary Protection Visa system has been welcomed by refugee support organizations such as the Refugee Council of Australia

"No one will lament the end of the TPV regime, a clearly failed policy which damaged the mental health of refugees needing protection and left vulnerable families separated for years" said Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council.

At the same time the Council expressed concern at the decision of the Immigration Minister not to exercise his discretion to prevent the deportation of some failed asylum seekers.

The Council has long argued on behalf of people who have humanitarian protection needs that are covered by International conventions other than the Refugee Convention. The Refugee Review Tribunal does not have the power to act in such cases and an appeal to the minister is the only option for some asylum seekers who may have suffered torture, violence, trafficking or mental illness.

The Refugee Council supports the call for a review of the current system of ministerial intervention to ensure a humane, transparent and fair process of dealing with asylum seekers in genuine need of protection.

Similar reactions and concerns have been expressed by other refugee advocacy groups such as A Just Australia

1 May 2008


In recent months concern has grown around the world at the dramatic increase in the price of food.

Price increases in supermarkets have had a noticeable effect on household budgets in the developed world, but the effect of rising prices in those parts of the world where people already struggle to survive on a minimal income, has been catastrophic.

Protests over food prices have occurred in the past year in places as diverse as Egypt (where the cost of food has doubled in a year), Sierra Leone (where food costs has increased 300%), Haiti, the Philippines; Italy; Uzbekistan; Yemen; Bolivia; Indonesia, the Cameroons (where 40 people died in food riots in Feb) among other places.

A spokesman for the UN World Food Program said that the rising prices were creating the biggest challenge the organization had encountered in its history, with more than 100 million people on every continent likely to be driven into hunger, resulting in an increased level of civil disturbance.

Causes cited for the current crisis include flooding and drought caused by climate change, changes in consumer patterns, biofuels, market structures and trade matters (trade-distorting subsidies from rich countries have damaged food production in poor countries).

The issue will be discussed at meetings of the G8 and EU scheduled for May, June and July and
has organized an online petition demanding that world leaders take effective action.

The most recent edition of OzSpirit also takes up this issue.


In a pastoral letter to mark the feast of St Joseph the Worker on May 1st, the Australian Catholic Bishops have highlighted the contribution of migrant workers to the Australian economy and drawn attention to the problems that many of them face.

Over the past two years reports of exploitation of migrant workers have included allegations of underpayment, unpaid overtime, unsafe working conditions resulting in injury or death, racial abuse and threats, and unfair termination leading to deportation.

The bishops urge the Australian Government to protect Australian wages and conditions of work, to improve monitoring and compliance with working visa conditions and to protect vulnerable migrant workers from exploitation.

The full text of the bishops' letter can be found at the website of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Australia is also yet to sign or ratify the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1990.


With the approach of World Debt Day on May 18th, Jubilee Australia is again drawing attention to the continued existence of the billions of dollars of unjust debts that is still being repaid today out of the pitiful social service budgets of the world's poorest nations.

Illegitimate debts are obligations claimed by lenders, wealthy institutions and countries, which only financed flawed and anti-people development projects and programs, or which were contracted by illegitimate regimes to further their rule.

In the Philippines, the debt issue and its resolution is a central issue in the political debate. In a country where 44% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, the prioritisation of debt payments over spending on social services and infrastructure means the state is abandoning the disadvantaged, hungry, uneducated, homeless and landless. There is no doubt that the real cost of this trend will be felt by the next generation.

For the Philippines, the staggering debt load (more than USD 80 billion) is largely attributable to economic policy under the corrupt administration of former president Ferdinand Marcos. Foreign loans were a rich source of funds for Marcos and his cronies.

But the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Wealthy creditor countries including Australia are guilty of being party to the accumulation of these illegitimate debts, many of which are still being serviced today.

More information about the issue, some suggestions for taking action and an interactive map summarising the debt situation for countries around the globe can be found at the above website.


It was only the mounting level of public criticism and protest that resulted in the release of David Hicks according to his lawyer David McLeod when commenting on the recent admissions the former chief prosecutor in the case, Colonel Moe Davis.

Testifying in a pre-trial hearing of another Guantanamo Bay detainee, Colonel Davis stated the military commissions were tainted by political influence and evidence obtained through prisoner abuse.

He also said that he would not have pursued Hicks because the case against the Australian was not serious enough but he was pressured to do so.

After spending more than five years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, mostly in solitary confinement, Hicks was sentenced to seven years' jail with all but nine months suspended under a plea bargain which also secured his return to Australia to serve out the sentence.

He was released from South Australia's Yatala Prison last December.

These latest comments confirm the belief that David Hicks was used as a political pawn. The case is a reminder both of the constant vigilance that is required to safeguard Human Rights even in democracies like Australia, and the power that ordinary people have to effect change by demanding action from their political leaders.

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