8 April 2015


About 150 metres from where I am now living in France, is a mass grave where 70 French and Austrian soldiers lie buried (see photo). They died in 1815 in what was a ‘side-show’ battle to the main event that had concluded at Waterloo a few days previously (sadly and ironically those who participated were probably unaware that the outcome of the war had already effectively been decided.)

Until well into the nineteenth century, soldiers’ remains were often simply left to decompose where they had fallen, their deaths not marked in any meaningful manner. (It was only in the past ten years that a memorial was erected on the site of the mass grave mentioned above.) By the end of the 19th century broader cultural, social and political shifts in attitudes towards death, war and the nation had occurred. Where once death had been an accepted and ever-present spectre, there was a growing unwillingness to accept separation and loss. Accounts of war correspondents and photography contributed to that by bringing the reality of the frontline closer than ever before to civilian audiences.

Changing attitudes towards death in war during the nineteenth century raised fundamental questions about what men were fighting for. Were soldiers dying for their monarch or emperor, their nation, or for something else? Justifying the sacrifices of fallen soldiers required narratives and noble causes. To suggest that they might have died for some trivial cause or even in vain was culturally and politically unpalatable.

Thus acts of remembrance sought to legitimise death on the battlefield as a heroic sacrifice for a particular cause. Governments, armies, religious institutions, cultural actors, local communities and other interested parties attempted to impose narratives upon the dead to legitimise their own agendas.

As Australia prepares to commemorate its war dead on Anzac Day (April 25th) it is important to remember that debating the nature of wars, and how and why they were fought, is not to dishonour the memory of the dead. It is also important that commemorations are not used to legitimise or glorify war.

For Australians too, it can be asked why in our commemoration of those who died in war, (including the 8709 who died at Gallipoli), the estimated 30,000 deaths that occurred in the so-called Frontier Wars are ignored.

(some material for this article is taken from http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/how-should-we-commemorate-wars-lessons-from-the-nineteenth-century)


UN Photo/Albert González Farran
It is one thing to argue for the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, but quite another to define the limits of those rights, particularly when they conflict. Areas where this happens become areas for controversy and pose a challenge in how to balance conflicting claims.

Does freedom of speech include the right to offend, to incite hatred or to infringe on the right to privacy for example? Abortion is another example of an issue that brings into conflict women’s rights and the right to life of the unborn child.

At the recently concluded session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva the UN Special Rapporteur on the Field of Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed, attempted to strike the balance between the  need to recognize and reward human creativity and innovation and, at the same time, to ensure the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.

In presenting her report to the Human Rights Council, Shaheed expressed concern about the tendency of copyright protections to be strengthened with little consideration to human rights issues and made recommendations on how better to approach copyright law.


Eight health and community organisations have written to Australia's Trade Minister Andrew Robb expressing "grave concerns" about the latest leaked draft of the nearly concluded Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty. Twelve countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region have participated in the negotiations which have been conducted in secret, although Wikileaks has published several documents relating to the negotiations.

Signatories to the letter want to see safeguards that prevent corporations from making claims against governments over policies like tobacco plain packaging, limits on alcohol advertising and food labelling requirements said Michael Moore of the Public Health Association of Australia. "As it stands, the chapter appears to allow these sorts of policies to be challenged."

Concerns have also been expressed about potential impacts on the environment and a roll back of chemical safety regulations and food product labelling laws.

It has also been suggested that Australians could pay more for drugs and medicines, movies, computer games and software, and be placed under surveillance as part of a US-led crackdown on internet piracy.

To learn more and raise any concerns about Australia committing to the TPP visit the Get-Up website


Tax evasion is the illegal evasion of taxes by individuals, corporations or trusts. Tax avoidance is not illegal: it's the use of tax laws to reduce the amount of tax payable. However in many cases although legal it cannot be considered moral.

Accurate estimates of the size of the problem are difficult to obtain, but Oxfam estimates that at least $18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide, whilst according to Global Financial Integrity from 2002 to 2011 developing countries lost US$5.9 trillion to illicit outflows, including $954 billion in 2011 alone. In a recently released report the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that developing countries lost around $100 billion per year in revenues due to tax avoidance by multinational enterprises

Governments everywhere are beginning to respond to rising community and political concern that multinational companies in particular are not paying their fair share of tax, but progress in addressing the issue is slow and uneven. Global Financial Integrity has for years recommended requiring multinational companies to publicly disclose sales, profits made, taxes paid, subsidiaries, and staff levels on a country-by-country basis as a necessary transparency measure to detect and deter abusive tax avoidance

A recent Australian report found that tax minimisation strategies employed by Australia's largest companies are costing the federal government more than $8 billion in lost revenue each year, prompting the establishment of a Senate committee to examine the effectiveness of Australia's current tax laws, the work of the Australian Tax Office and whether more transparency is needed to deter profit shifting and tax avoidance. The committee has commenced hearings this month.

The fight against tax injustice is one of the great battles of our age. Given that the core target in the fight is the rich and powerful, it will not be easy. Visit the Tax Justice Network website to learn more about what you can do.

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