21 August 2009


An estimated 2000 people die as a result of armed violence and over 1,000,000 guns are lost or stolen in the world every year.

Such statistics have given rise to the Control Arms campaign for a strong treaty that will control transfers of all arms and ammunition with tough criteria to stop them from getting into the wrong hands.

At the UN discussions on an Arms Trade Treaty which resumed last month, there were signs of hope that the world may finally be ready to move towards acting on this issue.
For the first time all governments agreed that international action is needed to address the problem of the unregulated arms trade with almost no States seriously questioning the merit of developing international regulations. A majority of the countries urged that negotiations should begin on an Arms Trade Treaty thereby giving a clear message that a small number of States must no longer block the desire of the overwhelming majority for a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty.

Negotiations toward such a treaty will recommence in October.


Recently more than 4,000 prisoners facing execution in Kenya had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment in the largest commutation in history. There have been no executions carried out in Kenya for 22 years.

In 2008, at least 2,390 people were known to have been executed in 25 countries and at least 8,864 people were sentenced to death in 52 countries around the world.

As in previous years, the five countries with the highest number of executions in 2008 were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States of America. Together these five countries carried out 93 per cent of all executions carried out in that year. These countries provide the greatest challenge towards global abolition of the death penalty.

In announcing the commutation of the death sentences, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki also directed government bodies to study whether the death penalty had any impact on the fight against crime.

“This is a step forward for human rights in Kenya,” said Piers Bannister, Amnesty International’s expert on the death penalty. “We hope that the government studies ordered by the President will conclude that the death penalty does not have any unique deterrent effect, that it brutalises society and is often inflicted upon the innocent.”

"The time has arrived for Kenya to join the majority of the world's countries and abolish the death penalty," he added.

When the U.S. resumed executions in 1977, only 16 nations had abolished the death penalty; the number has since grown to 92 but many other countries like Kenya have implemented a moratorium on executions without formally abolishing capital punishment. More than 70 per cent of countries have a moratorium on executions or have abolished capital punishment.

"In South Korea there have been no executions for more than 10 years. In Taiwan there have been no executions for three years. But in Japan executions continue to rise bucking the international trend away from the death penalty,” said Martin Macpherson, Amnesty International's Director of the International Law and Organizations program.


Groups of church leaders, religious and lay people in Australia that have been closely following the issues associated with the Northern Territory Intervention are writing to the United Nations' special rapporteur on indigenous human rights Professor James Anaya to ask for his support to ensure that the Racial Discrimination Act will be reinstated in the Northern Territory but, most importantly, reinstated so that it is consistent with Human Rights.

Speaking soon after his arrival to commence his 11 day visit in Australia Professor Anaya expressed the opinion that there is a prima facie case that suspending the Racial Discrimination Act is discriminatory, but he is yet to make up his mind that if doing so is in the best interests of Australia's indigenous people.

The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended in the NT by the former Howard government so the intervention's more extreme measures, such as quarantining welfare payments, could be rolled out.

Included in the letter to Professor Anaya is a restatement of the views expressed by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) in June 2009 which said:-
“As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians, representing many different denominations and backgrounds, we are united against the NT Intervention in its current form” and ask government to, ‘Recognise the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to negotiate agreements with governments. We stress negotiation as distinct from consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples about the implementation of policy and programs which have already been already been developed and decided on”.

The full text of the letter to the special rapporteur may be found at the Social Policy Connections website.


The United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is held in October each year. In Australia this day is extended into a full week.

The main aims of Anti-Poverty Week are to strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and in Australia, and to encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.

Everyone who is interested in helping to reduce poverty and hardship in Australia or overseas is encouraged to organise their own activities during the Week or join in some being organised by other people.

The above website has been updated to provide suggestions and resources for schools to mark this significant event.

4 August 2009


As negotiators gather in Bonn (Germany) for the next round of critical talks to prepare the way for the expected final deal on climate change in Copenhagen in Dec, Oxfam is reporting that Australia’s delegation is "keenly following the public reaction to their negotiating position" and is therefore urging ordinary Australians to speak up about their concerns.

The Oxfam website provides the opportunity to directly monitor talks taking place in Bonn from Aug 10-14 and to make your voice heard.

The website also has a range of news, information and suggestions for taking action around this issue.


In the aftermath of the issuing of the encyclical letter ‘Caritas in Veritate’ various commentators have attempted to analyse its significance. In some cases that has meant quoting selectively and placing their own ‘spin’ on the content.

In that context Pope Benedict’s recent comments elaborating on the message of his encyclical are significant.

Benedict stresses that his encyclical reaffirms the teaching set out in Pope Paul VI’s 1967 Encyclical >‘Populorum Progressio’ (On the Progress of Peoples), which addresses social themes vital to the well-being of humanity and reminds us that authentic renewal of both individuals and society requires living by Christ’s truth in love which stands at the heart of the Church’s social teaching.

The Encyclical does not aim to provide technical solutions to today’s social problems but instead focuses on the principles indispensable for human development. Most important among these is human life itself, the centre of all true progress.

Additionally, it speaks of the right to religious freedom as a part of human development, it warns against unbounded hope in technology alone, and it underlines the need for upright men and women – attentive to the common good – in both politics and the business world.

In regard to matters of particular urgency affecting the word today, the Encyclical addresses a wide range of issues and calls for decisive action to promote food security and agricultural development, as well as respect for the environment and for the rule of law. Stressed is the need for politicians, economists, producers and consumers alike to ensure that ethics shape economics so that profit alone does not regulate the world of business.


In a statement to a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council in Geneva the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi asked for a greater international commitment to respect humanitarian rights, both for victims of natural or human disasters and for the aid workers who endeavor to assist them.

He emphasized that despite a decrease last year in the worldwide number of refugees, "more than 10 million men, women and children still live in refugee camps and more than 26 million continue displaced because of past or recent conflicts, lack of security and persecution." which in turn cause "immeasurable physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain and wound the social fabric, destroying families and communities, endangering reconciliation and threatening the lives of thousands of innocent civilians."

Archbishop Tomasi emphasized the need "for all sectors to recognize their particular responsibility in protecting the lives of civilians in areas under their jurisdiction or their control, and to fulfill and fully respect the norms and principles of international human rights, including those regarding the protection of humanitarian personnel and that of not impeding access to those in need."

He went on to say that states "should commit themselves to promote and permit access to resources destined to saving lives, without using them for political control."

"The common good should be the guiding principle and international humanitarian rights should be protected in every circumstance,"
he affirmed.

Archbishop Tomasi also asked for greater efforts to guarantee the rights of prisoners of war and people who are detained in various ways."Detention camps and centers should be temporary solutions and places to which there is open access and the dignity of people is a priority.".


In an address given at the first Deterrence Symposium, hosted by US Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore (a former military chaplain) stated that the world and its leaders must remain focused on the goal of a nuclear-weapons free world and the steps to get there.

He re-affirmed the teaching of US bishops that nuclear deterrence is not "a long term basis for peace" and added that "…the spread of nuclear weapons and technology to other nations, and the threat of nuclear terrorism, which cannot be deterred with nuclear weapons, point to the need to move beyond nuclear deterrence as rapidly as possible."

In his address Archbishop O’Brien drew upon the rich Catholic moral and social justice tradition – particularly in regard to war.

He re-iterated the fundamental Catholic teaching that human life is sacred because every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and pointed out that for this reason, the Church works consistently and persistently to defend the life and dignity of all: the unborn, the poor at home and abroad, the immigrant, and persons in every age and condition of life.

He stated that the church supports building international agreements and structures that will make war ever less likely as a means of resolving disputes between nations and peoples, and believes that ultimately we must work for a world without war.

He went on to point out that the use of nuclear weapons in war is contrary to the traditional Church teaching on the conditions for a just war because it cannot ensure noncombatant immunity and because the likely destruction and lingering radiation would violate the principle of proportionality. And there is always the danger of escalation to nuclear exchanges of cataclysmic proportions.

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