10 February 2014


I recently attended a ceremony and exhibition at the UN to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan 27th) which told the remarkable story of ‘The Girls of Room 28’ – a group of Jewish girls held in Theresienstadt concentration camp, one of whom was present at the ceremony.

The experience led me to again reflect and try to understand how we humans can be capable of perpetrating so much cruelty towards one another. The holocaust is not an isolated event – Cambodia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and now Syria, to name but a few, are further examples of ongoing acts of horrifying barbarity that have taken place since then.

And yet an extermination camp such as Auschwitz did not suddenly appear. Rather it was the culmination of many small intermediate steps that began with the singling out and demonizing of a minority group, continued with the unchecked proliferation of hate speech, that was even encouraged by those in power, acts of discrimination, the denial of human rights and accompanied progressively by an increasing level of violence.

In Germany it is claimed most ordinary people did not know of the worst excesses of the Nazis. Maybe so, but all would have been aware of the initial steps that were to eventually lead to the ‘final solution’, but most failed to act. Eventually it was too late.

Without equating the Jewish holocaust to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers – although prior to its occurence Germans would never have believed that their civilised nation would be capable of perpetrating the horrors that later took place - there are nevertheless some disturbing parallels with what is happening now with what happened in Nazi Germany.

A group of people are being denied their fundamental human right to enter another country to seek asylum. Worse, they are constantly and wrongfully being described as ‘illegals’, ‘terrorists’, ‘queue jumpers’ etc, are held in remote locations in inhumane conditions with no indication of when they might be freed.

It is difficult to know the exact conditions under which people are being held due to the secrecy of the Australian government, the insistence on confidentiality clauses in employment contracts for those employed in places such as Manus Island and Nauru, and the effective banning of the media from visiting. Visa fees for journalists wishing to visit Nauru were recently increased from $200 to $8000 which leads to the question ‘What is being hidden?’

It was the Irish Statesman Edmund Burke who said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing". Perhaps it is time for more good men and women in Australia to raise their voices against the evil being perpetrated in their name.

More information, including suggestions for writing a letter and the contact details of your member of parliament can be found at the A Just Australia website.


The worldwide movement towards phasing out capital punishment is “a courageous reaffirmation of the conviction that humanity can successfully confront criminality without resorting to the suppression of life … today, more than ever, it is urgent that we remember and reaffirm the need for universal recognition and respect for the inalienable dignity of human life, in its immeasurable value” according to Pope Francis.

The movement to abolish capital punishment has lasted decades and there is still a substantial amount of advocacy work ahead before the death penalty is a thing of the past. 

Since 1956, ninety-two countries have abolished capital punishment and many others have placed a moratorium on this ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. Whilst there are forty-seven countries worldwide that still endorse and practice the death penalty, the overwhelming majority of executions are carried out by just five countries:- China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

In the US, Maryland in 2013 became the 18th state to abolish the death penalty. There is a growing realisation that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent , is more expensive than alternatives and carries the risk of an unsafe conviction. Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the US due to evidence of their wrongful convictions.

The issue of capital punishment is a reminder that by its nature, advocacy and lobbying work such as that conducted by Edmund Rice International is a long, slow process and that often there can be little result to see for one's efforts. We persevere with hope and trust  that in some distant day our world will be a place where the rights of all are respected, and all can live in peace with dignity.


The Australia East Timor Friendship Association AETFA has reacted with scorn to the recent comments by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in which she accused Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who leaked information about Australia spying on Timor-Leste during the Timor Sea oil and gas negotiations, of “unprecedented treachery”.

Rather AETFA claims it is successive Australian governments who have who have displayed incredible levels of treachery towards the people of East Timor, a people who suffered the deaths of an estimated 40,000 people at the hands of the Japanese invaders for the support given to Australian soldiers during World War II.

The AETFA response recounts the collusion of Australia with Indonesia in the lead-up to the 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, Australia’s arming and training of Indonesian military personnel during the 24 years of illegal occupation by Indonesia where East Timor lost an estimated one third of its population, its silence in the face of the massacres, rape, torture and intimidation of the population that occurred during the occupation.

Following the gaining of independence by East Timor, Australia vigorously pursued its dubious claims in an attempt to grab the lions share of the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. This despite the desperate need of East Timor, the poorest country in the region and one of the poorest in the world, for funds to rebuild the country.

Most recently when Timor-Leste appealed to the International Court of Justice, Australia responded by Attorney General, George Brandis, ordering the Australian Security and Intelligence Agency (ASIO) to raid the offices of one of Timor’s lawyers, confiscate relevant documents and arrest a key witness.

Visit the AEFTA website to view the full statement.


In a bid to reach people forced to work in Australia for little or no wages, Australia’s Catholic anti-trafficking organisation ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) has expanded its major labour trafficking awareness campaign through ethnic media outlets.

The RAP campaign, involves Community Service Announcements (CSAs) in six languages. The announcements, supported by the Australian Federal Police and using text by Anti-Slavery Australia (part funded by the Australian Government), have been aired on some Victorian radio stations, but will now be rolled out nationally on radio as well as in ethnic newspapers.

ACRATH’s national projects coordinator Christine Carolan said the campaign offered support to people who speak little English and who are being forced to work for little or no pay and who are vulnerable to exploitation. She said the announcements alerted people to employment situations that are against the law in Australia and encouraged victims to seek help. The announcements provide a phone number for the Australian Federal Police and also offer people free legal advice from Anti-Slavery Australia.

“We know that there are people in Australia who are working under harsh and unjust conditions, who may have come here thinking they were going to be employed fairly, but who receive little or no pay until they work off what their traffickers call a ‘debt’. For example, a worker trafficked into Australia can be told they owe their trafficker $35,000 or more. Some people are too afraid to say anything for fear of violence against them or their family back home,” Ms Carolan said.

“Forcing someone to work under these circumstances is a crime and the Australian Federal Police would certainly like to hear from anyone who is in this situation. Some people could be forced to work in the sex industry or in the hospitality, construction or agricultural industries. It doesn’t matter what the employment is, they cannot be held against their will or paid illegal rates of pay. We are placing CSAs in ethnic press and on radio stations to try and reach as many people as possible.”

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