24 November 2009


Human Rights Day 2009 is observed by the international community every year on 10th December. It commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights described by Pope John Paul II as "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time."

Human Rights Day 2009 will focus on non-discrimination. "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". These first few famous words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established 60 years ago the basic premise of international human rights law. Yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe.

"Our main objective is to help promote discrimination-free societies and a world of equal treatment for all," says the High Commissioner who this year will mark Human Rights Day in South Africa.

She encourages people everywhere - including the UN family, governments, civil society, national human rights institutions, the media, educators, and individuals - to seize the opportunity of Human Rights Day 2009 to join hands to embrace diversity and end discrimination.

The realisation of all human rights - social, economic and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights – is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent.

The United Nations and Declaration of Human Rights unit of the Edmund Rice International Acting Justly online course gives some background to the historical development of the human rights concept and the role of the United Nations in the promotion of human rights through the Human Rights Council.


A recently released report of the Australian government warns that 250,000 homes are at risk of inundation by the turn of the century due to the rising sea-levels brought about by climate change.

In addition 120 ports, 1,800 bridges, power stations, water treatment plants and airports close to the coastline are also under threat according to a story published in the ’Melbourne ‘Age.’

Despite the prediction that properties worth an estimated $60 billion would be lost, the Australian parliament is struggling to reach any agreement about what needs to be done. To the amazement of the recently appointed British High Commissioner the debate in Australia is still centred on whether climate change is occurring at all, or to what extent it is a man-made phenomenon – elsewhere in the world the debate has moved on to what needs to be done to mitigate or adapt to the this major threat to life on this planet as we know it.

In another news item that appeared in the same week, the absence of a well-thought out long term strategy for coping with climate change in Australia was exposed.

In the Spanish province of Granada the Andasol Power Plant, the world's largest solar plant, has reportedly overcome one of the biggest problems facing large-scale solar power: how to produce electricity at night or when it is overcast. The Andasol plant stores heat from the day in molten salt, which then powers electricity turbines overnight. The plant can continue for 7½ hours without sunlight, and more advanced plants coming online in the next few years are set to double that storage time.

The potential of Solar Thermal Energy as a non-polluting unlimited source to meet Australia’s energy needs (first mentioned in this bulletin almost three years ago in Jan 2007) has long been recognized. Plants such as that at Andasol and in the Mojave Desert in California are already operating commercially, and plans to use the North African desert for the generation of electricity to supply a significant proportion of Europe’s energy needs moved a step closer to reality last month with the signing of an agreement by a group of twelve companies and the Desertec Foundation.

Meanwhile despite being particularly suitable for the generation of solar energy Australia, seemingly bereft of leadership capable of looking beyond the next election, continues to largely ignore this potential solution to greenhouse gas generation.

As is often the case governments will rarely lead, and instead will follow public opinion. It becomes the responsibility of all of us therefore to ensure our voice is heard on this and other important issues.


As the effects of global warming become increasingly apparent and warnings about the price of inaction become more urgent, it is perhaps worth considering what each one of us would say we tried to do to prevent the looming catastrophe if asked by a member of any of the generations to come.

As the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen approaches there is still an opportunity for individuals to influence the outcome of that conference.

Oxfam Australia is urging supporters to write to the Prime Minister asking him to endorse strong action to combat climate change. The annual Walk Against Warming will take place on Dec 12th. A large turnout will send an important message to the world leaders debating the issue in Copenhagen. Endorsing the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change is another way of expressing your concern about this issue.


More than 35 million people, 2.5 million of them children, are estimated to be living with HIV (2007 figures), with over 90 percent living in developing countries.

World AIDS Day, observed on 1st December each year, is an important opportunity for governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations, and individuals around the world to bring attention to the global AIDS epidemic and emphasise the critical need for universal access to essential care.

The global theme for 2009 and 2010 World AIDS Day is "Universal Access and Human Rights" chosen by the World AIDS Campaign.

This theme is intended to encourage deeper understanding, develop partnerships and challenge discriminatory laws, policies and practices that stand in the way of access for all to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Responding to the AIDS crisis is a major focus of Caritas Internationalis. Catholic Church agencies such as Caritas provide a quarter of all HIV care in the worst-hit continent of Africa. Caritas works in 107 countries to provide access for all to prevention, treatment, and care. Caritas workers support people with HIV by providing full and accurate information, food, counselling, medicine, employment, education, and by eliminating stigma and exclusion.

Through the HAART for Children campaign Caritas has focused particularly on children who contract HIV – a group largely forgotten in global and national efforts to address the epidemic.

The campaign which asks pharmaceutical companies and governments for a greater commitment to improved access to testing and treatment for children living with HIV and HIV/TB Co-infection has been supported by a number of Edmund Rice Schools around the world.

10 November 2009


This month marks the 20th anniversary of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a Convention now accepted by all but two of the UN’s 192 member states.

The Convention represents a major milestone in the effort to achieve a world fit for children. As a binding treaty of international law, it codifies principles that Member States of the United Nations agreed to be universal – for all children, in all countries and cultures, at all times and without exception, simply through the fact of their being born into the human family.
The treaty has inspired changes in laws to better protect children, altered the way international organizations see their work for children, and supported an agenda to better protect children in situations of armed conflict.

Information about progress that has been made in advancing the fundamental rights of children under the Convention and the principal areas of challenge that remain can be found here.


Edmund Rice International recently joined with five other NGO’s, Franciscans International, Pax Romana, the Kenyan Movement of Catholic Professional (KMCP), the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs and International Movement of Catholic Students, and the Marist Foundation for International Solidarity (FMSI) to prepare and submit a report to the Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights situation in Kenya, scheduled to take place in Geneva in 2010.

The submission focused on a range of issues:- the right to adequate housing, the right to food and safe drinking water, gender issues (the situation of single mothers and domestic violence), the right to education, the right to health (especially in regard to HIV/AIDS, peace building, the administration of justice and human rights, and conditions in prisons. Each section of the submission was accompanied by recommendations to the Government of Kenya.

It is hoped that the involvement of the East African Edmund Rice Network in this exercise can serve as an example of what is possible and be a source of encouragement to other provinces and regions to become involved in advocacy.


Just when it appeared the issue of Australia’s shameful treatment of asylum had largely been put behind us in the wake of a number of reforms introduced by the present government, the issue has surfaced again with the stand-off involving a small group of Tamil asylum seekers and the Australian and Indonesian Governments.

In 1975 when Australia was facing an influx of ‘boat people’ following the Communist takeover of South Vietnam, the then Australian government led by Malcolm Fraser and the opposition agreed on a bipartisan and humane policy that was eventually largely accepted by the Australian people, despite its initial unpopularity.

Sadly the same level of leadership has not been in evidence in recent years as politicians have sought to exploit this issue for political advantage.

The stance of the Australian government was condemned in the latest (Nov) briefing of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and described as ‘immoral’ by Jesuit Fr Andy Hamilton in an article in Eureka Street .

In adding his voice to those condemning the stance of the Australian government Director of the Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney, Phil Glendenning stated that "This stand-off in Indonesia demeans Australia in the eyes of the world, and diminishes us as a people. It is ugly politics that under a discourse of 'deterrence' uses vulnerable people to send a message to others who simply are not listening."
He went on to say "The current political debate is wrong because it demonises the vulnerable, it employs the ugly tactics of petty partisan race-politics. This is dog-whistle stuff which summons up the darkest fears that reside within Australians' hearts historically."

Get Up the grass-roots community advocacy organisation, believes that hostile myths are the greatest barrier to a more compassionate asylum seeker policy in Australia. It is encouraging people to empower themselves to counter disinformation by reading their myth-busting fact sheet obtainable from the above website.


Jubilee Australia has raised concerns that the Australian Government will shortly give approval for its Export Credit Insurance Agency (EFIC) to back the largest business investment project in the Pacific region, the construction of a pipeline from the Southern Highlands and Western Province of Papua New Guinea to Port Moresby.

Whilst the economic benefits of the project are acknowledged there is a real concern that those benefits will not benefit the people of PNG, rather they are likely to "fall down into the black hole of corruption" unless the PNG government signs up to the World Bank-associated Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The EITI provides a mechanism which enables civil society to keep governments accountable for public spending. So far the PNG government has refused to sign on to the EITI.

Jubilee Australia is urging people to write to the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, pointing out that as the project now stands, benefits to the local population are likely to be minimal and that the project is likely to have negative social effects
and asking that its support of this project be conditional on the PNG government signing the EITI.

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