26 November 2010


In the aftermath of the enormous loss of life and the associated horrors that occurred during the Second World War, the founding member countries of the then newly established United Nations, joined hands to draft many solid laws to promote and protect the primary human rights of its citizens.

In 1948, after a lapse of 3 years, the combined efforts of these counties paid off in the form of proclamation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations’ General Assembly. Thereafter in 1950, the UN called on all member States and organizations around the globe to commemorate World Human Rights Day on 10th of December every year.

These human rights are proclaimed as being interlinked and interdependent rights inherent to all human beings without any discrimination of nationality, ethnic origin, sex, religion, language, or cast and creed or any other status.

The theme for Human Rights Day 2010 is human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.

Human rights defenders acting against discrimination, often at great personal risk to both themselves and their families, are being recognized and acclaimed on this day. Human rights defenders speak out against abuse and violations including discrimination, exclusion, oppression and violence. They advocate justice and seek to protect the victims of human rights violations. They demand accountability for perpetrators and transparency in government action. In so doing, they are often putting at risk their own safety, and that of their families.

Some human rights defenders are famous, but most are not. They are active in every part of the world, working alone and in groups, in local communities, in national politics and internationally.

Human Rights Day 2010 will highlight and promote the achievements of human rights defenders and it will again emphasize the primary role Governments must play in enabling and protecting their role. The Day is also intended to inspire a new generation of defenders to speak up and take action to end discrimination in all of its forms whenever and wherever it is manifested.

A report on the state of human rights around the world on a country by country basis is available on the Amnesty International website.


The recent Universal Periodic Review of the United States at the human Rights Council in Geneva created a high level of interest, with more than 80 states taking the floor to raise issues resulting 228 recommendations - the highest number made to any state thus far.

The US sent a high level delegation of 40 persons, over 70 representatives of US NGO's came to Geneva for the review and 15 NGO-organised side events were staged.

Issues of concern that featured prominently included the US failure to ratify a number of core international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child; its continued use of the death penalty; racial inequality; rights of indigenous people and counter-terrorism measures.

Immigration was another issue that featured prominently and the concerns about the guest-worker program raised by Edmund Rice International were best reflected in a recommendation (92.81) put forward by Guatemala:-
"Take the necessary measures in favor of the right to work and fair conditions of work so that workers belonging to minorities, in particular women and undocumented migrant workers, do not become victims of discriminatory treatment and abuse in the work place and enjoy the full protection of the labour legislation, regardless of their migratory status"

The US declined to respond to these recommendations at this time, but agreed to give them consideration before announcing any decision on their acceptance at the next session of the Human Rights Council in March.


Business leaders of hundreds of companies from around the world have released a renewed demand for "an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change".

The statement – known as The Cancun Communique – is an initiative of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change – a cross-sectoral group of major international businesses working with the University of Cambridge to call for more ambitious action to tackle climate change.

It argues that scientific evidence for action is overwhelming and an international framework is vital to deliver such action at the required scale. However it also argues that governments should not wait for success in the negotiations before taking action on their own.

The companies that have signed the Communiqué believe that: "The risk of inaction on climate change is far greater than the cost of investing today" and that an ambitious, robust and equitable deal is the right way to both respond to climate change and stimulate economic recovery.

Some of the well known companies that are signatories to the communiqué include: Adidas; Air France; British Airways; BSkyB; Coca-Cola; eBay; Johnson & Johnson; Kodak; Lloyds Banking Group; Nestle; Philips; Reuters; Royal Dutch Shell; Unilever; the Virgin Group and Vodaphone.

The Communiqué was presented to decision makers around the world in the lead-up to the meeting of world leaders at COP16 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference which is currently underway in Cancun, Mexico.

Visit the Oxfam website for regular updates on the Cancun conference.


The Catholic bishops of Australia have welcomed the recent High Court Judgment which affords asylum seekers the same protections of the legal system that are offered to everyone else.

In commenting on the decision, the spokesperson for the bishops on migrant and refugee matters Bishop Joe Grech stated that "All Australians will welcome the High Court’s judgement that the rule of law must be followed by decision makers employed by the Australian Government. Most Australians would perhaps be surprised to learn that such a requirement has not been standard practice"

The High Court judgment found that the assessment of asylum seekers claims for refugee status did not comply with Australian law and failed to observe the requirements of procedural fairness.

Bishop Grech condemned the political expediency that had resulted in the detention of people in remote areas and expressed the hope that the decision would mark "the end of so‐called ‘Pacific solutions’ in which those seeking asylum in Australia are moved to remote offshore locations in order to avoid their access to Australian laws".

In the meantime the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Christopher Saunders has questioned the manner in which the Northern Territory Emergency Response (‘the Intervention’) is being carried out in indigenous communities.

"We … have to ask who makes the decisions about income management. Will it be applied by officials who have little connection with Indigenous people or possess little understanding of the complexities of the issues involved? What qualifications will be employed to select those people who will have extraordinary power over the income and lives of powerless people?

Compulsory income management alone will not address the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage. A rigid focus on compliance of a policy that implies that 'we know best' or 'it is all for their own good' risks adopting the kind of attitude that gave rise to policies behind the Stolen Generation"
he said.

More information about issues arising from the ‘Intervention’ can be found in the latest briefing from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

3 November 2010


A number of criticisms of the world’s largest and most-profitable mining company BHP-Billiton (The 'Big Australian') were raised at the annual share-holders meeting held in London recently.

The company was urged to halt its coal mining operations on the Indonesian island of Borneo by representatives of JATAM an Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network and of indigenous peoples who reported that mining "has destroyed our forests, rivers and livelihoods."

"Can communities say an outright 'No' to destruction of their forests, biodiversity and water, in fact to a model of economic development they don't want?"
asked Richard Solly, co-ordinator of the London Mining Network He argued that people should have the right to say 'No' and pointed out that indigenous peoples in particular have rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In response CEO Marius Kloppers explained that accepting the right to Free Prior Informed Consent as envisaged in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could violate the terms of company leases if it conflicted with national governments’ views on Indigenous rights. The company believed that only national governments had the right to decide on mineral development.

The company was also accused of trying to change the boundaries of protected forests to enable it to mine in areas currently off-limits, an accusation which it denied and the company claimed to be unaware that its subsidiaries were continuing to explore in an area where permission had been withdrawn.

Complaints were also aired relating to communities in Colombia that had been removed for mine expansion around the company’s part-owned Cerrejon Coal mine. Complaints centred on the continuing slow pace of progress in implementing relocation agreements, the company’s failure to adequately assist the increasing number of workers are suffering work-related illnesses and the denial of union rights to the six thousand sub-contracted workers at the mine.

The new company chair Jac Nasser and the CEO Marius Kloppers washed their hands of responsibility for any action on global warming while fully accepting the findings of science and acknowledging that greenhouse gas emissions need to be limited. In their view, it is up to society and governments to decide on the way forward which means that in the meantime the company will continue with its plans to increase production of coal, oil and gas - presumably in the hope that currently unavailable technical solutions might one day help limit the effects of burning them!


In a landmark statement issued in Geneva on 30th Sep, fourteen major intergovernmental organizations urged respect for the rights and protection of the tens of millions of irregular migrants worldwide.

Signatories to the statement included the World Bank, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, UNESCO, the UN Development Programme, the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose head Ms. Navanethem Pillay led the effort.

The statement was welcomed by the Secretary-General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) Johann Ketelers who noted that "For years - and all too much recently - even their (irregular migrants) most basic human rights have widely been denied, ignored or considered only in pieces or symptoms."

He went on to point out the important contribution of irregular migrants to the economy as well as the individual, family and societal costs of leaving such an enormous class of people outside the law, outside protection, exposed to exploitation, abuse and expulsion.

In the meantime the recent decision of the Australian Government to Children in Detention was cautiously welcomed by advocacy groups such as the Edmund Rice Centre,Chilout and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).

The ASRC noted that the release of some children and families will make a significant positive difference to their welfare. However it was noted that:-
- The policy of mandatory detention of children remains unchanged.
- All new children and families who arrive undocumented will still be detained.
- The policy does not provide legal protections to limit how long children can be detained.
- There is no change of laws to enshrine what is an ‘at risk’ family to ensure they are released into the community.
- The policy shift is contradicted and undermined by the establishment of a new detention centre to house up to 400 families in South Australia and the expansion of the detention facility in Broadmeadows for up to 100 more family members.
- It does not guarantee the release of all children and families and only makes an in-principle promise of an undefined ‘majority’ by June 2011.
- It fails to recognize that all families in detention are at risk and have experienced some form of trauma.
- It releases children and families on community detention arrangements (residence determinations) instead of bridging visas which would have given them more rights and be better for their welfare and mental health due to the security it would have provided.
- It appears to place the burden on caring for children and families on charities and churches rather than on the Government itself.
- It fails to establish any independent watchdog or scrutiny to ensure the Government’s detention values are acted upon within set time limits and with consistency.


"Eradication of poverty should not be considered as an act of charity but rather as an obligation of the international community." Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, newly appointed permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, stated before the UN General Assembly at a meeting on eradication of poverty and other development issues.

Noting that the international community has the means to end worldwide poverty, the Arhbishop stated that "whatever the form it takes, poverty is an insult to our common humanity that so many people around the world continue to suffer"

He went on to observe that poverty profoundly affects the dignity of the human person and that it affects mainly those who are not capable of a decent livelihood, especially children, the disabled, the elderly, and women - especially children who make up almost half of those living in absolute poverty today.

"Unfortunately," he noted, "the combined food, fuel, and financial crises since 2008 have slowed down, and even reversed, progress towards eradication of poverty in many developing countries around the world." so that "64 million more people are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty in 2010 while some 40 million more went hungry last year because of the food, fuel, and financial crises."

He continued "By 2015, 1.2 million more children under five may die, 350,000 more students may not complete primary school, and some 100 million more people may remain without access to safe water.“

"Now, more than ever, is the time to recommit efforts towards such poverty eradication."
he said.

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) is an alliance of trade unions, NGOs, women’s and youth movements, community and faith groups and others to call for action from world leaders to meet their promises to end poverty and inequality.

Its main aim is to achieve policy and practice changes that will improve the lives of people living in poverty.


A recently completed study by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) into human trafficking trends in East Africa has named the capitals of Kenya and Tanzania as the region's main magnet for children and adults tricked into exploitative labour including prostitution.

The main countries of origin of victims were identified as Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Congo Kinshasa (DRC).

 In Kenya, the study found evidence of Rwandan, Tanzanian and Ugandan victims of trafficking, including children, working in Nairobi as domestic labourers, in the commercial sex and hospitality sectors, and in the agricultural sector in various locations around the country.

In Tanzania, the IOM researchers found evidence of child trafficking from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda for sexual exploitation, fishing, domestic servitude and agricultural labour. Adult victims of trafficking into Tanzania were mainly identified in the domestic sector, as well as the mining, agricultural and hospitality industries. But while Ugandan children are trafficked to all the countries in the region, Uganda was also registered as a destination for trafficked victims from Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. In addition, instability in eastern Congo was found to be fuelling the influx of trafficked children to Uganda.

Although information on Rwanda was scant, the country was identified as a source for victims destined for Italy, Norway and the Netherlands as well as for child victims destined for Nairobi and the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa as domestic workers and for sexual exploitation.

The results of the study were presented at a Nairobi workshop to senior East African government officials, civil society groups and international experts. Participants called for the implementation of a region-wide 116 emergency number - an internationally recognised hotline number for trafficked children, which is currently in use in Kenya.

Meanwhile despite the evidence that its hotels could be used for the sale of trafficked children, the Hilton Hotel group had resisted calls to sign the ECPAT Code of Conduct which aims to raise awareness and to take practical measures against children being sexually abused within the tourism and travel industry.

In response to the publicity generated over its stance, including an online petition organized by Avaaz Hilton has announced that following discussions with ECPAT it will roll out a code of conduct for preventing child trafficking at its hotels by the end of the year.

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