21 January 2009


Amidst the concerns about the global economy, climate change and ongoing conflicts around the world the inauguration this week of Barak Obama as US President, the first black to hold the office, was a significant moment; a culmination of the civil rights struggle to overcome the legacy of injustice, slavery and segregation experienced by African-Americans and a ray of hope for the future.

The election of Obama has been marked by optimism that the hopes and concerns of many for a better world may be realized. The Avaaz website provides a forum for the expression of those hopes.

Whilst many around the world joined Americans in celebrating the inauguration with renewed hope for a new age of political idealism, the celebration of Australia’s National Day (Jan 26th) will not generate the same level of unity or enthusiasm.

For indigenous Australians the commemoration of the arrival of the first fleet, which marked the beginning of permanent European settlement, is not a cause for celebration, especially considering the continued size of the gap in health, and living standards between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

The measures introduced in the last federal budget to Close the Gap give some grounds for hope for improvement but as with the election of President Obama, the real test will be if rhetoric and promise is backed by tangible results.


In recent days the world has witnessed a tragedy unfold in Palestine in which hundreds of innocent civilians have died and much of the infrastructure of Gaza destroyed.

The roots of this conflict are many and varied but include the very circumstances of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947, the 1967 military annexation by Israel of areas outside the UN determined boundaries of the state - East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank - the terror attacks by Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas and the economic blockade of Gaza initiated in response to continued rocket attacks from Gaza.

Whilst the recent Israeli action has been widely condemned as being excessive and counterproductive, there is no solution in sight to this seemingly intractable problem.

Nevertheless some things seem clear, one of them being that the way of non-violence (often derided as impractical and unrealistic) offers a far better chance of securing a lasting peace than engagement in a never ending cycle of violence.

This is among the points raised by American peace activist and Jesuit priest Fr John Dear writing recently in the National Catholic Reporter.


A recent UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report says Tanzania remains a source and transit point for children trafficked to South Africa, Europe and the Middle East to engage in forced labour and sexual exploitation.

"There is also visible mobility of children around and within the country, with children being internally trafficked from rural to urban areas to work as domestic servants in nightclubs and bars" the report states.

The findings are contained in the report by that was issued in Geneva following the 49th session of the Committee which examines member country profiles on implementation of protocols on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Tanzania was one of the group of countries under review in this most recent session.

For further information about a campaign to ensure the welfare and protection of rights of children in Tanzania visit the Caucus for Children's Rights website.

However trafficked children in Tanzania represent only a tiny fraction of those caught up in this global problem.

Thirty million people are still trapped in slavery around the world today, according to Steve Chalke, founder of Stop the Traffick while visiting Melbourne recently.

"Trafficking operates everywhere. It is here in Melbourne, it is across Australia and every country in the world," he said. "The slave trade has not ended. It is a far bigger problem than it ever was 200 years ago."

He went on to point out that whilst 80 per cent of modern slavery involved women and children in prostitution, forced labour was also used by clothing and food manufacturers, particularly chocolate makers where the cocoa industry in Ghana and the Ivory Coast which supplied 70 per cent of the world's cocoa, still used slave and child labour.

For further up to date information about global trafficking, especially in relation to Australia, visit the Good Shepherd Tafficking in Persons Clearinghouse website.


The United Nations has proclaimed 20 February as the World Day of Social Justice. The day will be observed for the first time in 2009.

In a unanimously adopted resolution the member states of the United Nations agreed to devote this special day to the promotion of concrete national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals first set out at the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995.

At that summit UN member states made ten commitments in aimed at the promotion of an equitable distribution of income and greater access to resources through equity and equality and opportunity for all. The governments recognized as well that economic growth should promote equity and social justice and that "a society for all" must be based on social justice and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Secretariat Commission for Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation of the Union of Superiors General of Religious Congregations has prepared a prayer service/reflection to mark that day. Please email me if you would like a copy.

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