Human rights

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Private Eye on Johnson’s Appointment of Neocon as Anti-Extremism Chief

A few weeks ago the Labour left staged an event on Zoom in which a series of Labour MPs and activists, including the head of the Stop the War Coalition, explained why socialists needed to be anti-war. They stated that after going quiet following the debacles of the Iraq invasion, Libya and elsewhere, the Neocons were being rehabilitated. There was therefore a real danger that the ideology behind those wars was returning, and Britain and America would embark on further imperialist, colonialist wars. And now, according to this fortnight’s Private Eye, for 16th – 29th April, 2021, Boris Johnson has appointed Robin Simcox, a Neocon, as head of the government’s Commission on Countering Extremism. Simcox is a member of the extreme right-wing Henry Jackson Society, firmly backing the wars in the Middle East. He also supported the rendition of terrorists to countries, where they would be tortured, as well as drone strikes and detention without trial. And when he was in another right-wing American think tank, the Heritage Foundation, he objected to White supremacist organisations also being included in the American government’s efforts to counter violent extremism.

The Eye’s article about his appointment, ‘Brave Neo World’, on page 14, runs

Robin Simcox, appointed as the new head of the government’s Commission on Countering Extremism (CCE), has neoconservative view that will themselves seem pretty extreme to many observers. He replaces Sara Khan, the first head of the CCE, which Theresa May set up in 2017 as “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism”.

Simcox was researcher at the neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), before leaving for the US to become “Margaret Thatcher fellow” at the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was also a regular contributor to Tory website ConservativeHome, writing there in 2011 that David Cameron was wrong to criticise neoconservatives “what has been happening in the Middle East is proving the neocons right” (ie that invasions could build democracies.

In a 2013 study for the HJS, Simcox argued: “Rendition, drones, detention without trial, preventative arrests and deportations are the realities of the ongoing struggle against today’s form of terrorism; they are not going to disappear, because they have proved extremely effective.” Rendition meant the US and UK handing terror suspects over to nations such as Libya or Egypt so they could be tortured for information. He complained that politicians “failed to adequately explain to the public” why these methods were needed and were “failing to explain that the complexities of dealing with modern-day terrorism meant that not all roads lead to a court of law”.

Simcox spent many years looking at Islamist terrorism, but at the Heritage Foundation he argued that making “white supremacy” the subject of a “countering violent extremism policy” was mostly driven by “political correctness” and could be “overreach”, regardless of the terrorist acts by white racists in the UK, US and elsewhere.

Simcox has been appointed interim lead commissioner of the CCE, possibly because bring him in as a temp means his recruitment wasn’t subject to the same competition and inspection as a permanent appointment.

Johnson has therefore appointed as head of the commission an extreme right-winger, who supports unprovoked attacks on countries like Iraq and Libya. The argument that these invasions were intended to liberate these nations from their dictators was a lie. It was purely for western geopolitical purposes, and particularly to remove obstacles to western political hegemony and dominance of the oil industry in the region. In the case of Iraq, what followed was the wholesale looting of the country. Its oil industry was acquired by American-Saudi oil interests, American and western multinationals stole its privatised state industries. The country’s economy was wrecked by the lowering of protectionist trade tariffs and unemployment shot up to 60 per cent. The country was riven with sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia, American mercenaries ran drugs and prostitution rings and shot ordinary Iraqis for kicks. The relatively secular, welfare states in Iraq and Libya, which gave their citizens free education and healthcare vanished. As did a relatively liberal social environment, in which women were to be regarded as equals and were free to pursue careers outside the home. And western intervention in the Middle East created an environment leading to the further, massive growth in Islamist extremism in al-Qaeda and then Daesh. And this has led to the return of slavery. This was Islamist sex-slavery under Daesh in the parts of Iraq under their jackboot, while Black Africans are being enslaved and sold by Islamists in slave markets that have reappeared in Libya.

Domestically, Simcox’s appointment is also ominous. He clearly doesn’t believe in human rights and the protection of the law. Just as he doesn’t believe in tackling White supremacist extremism, even though at one point there were more outrages committed by White racists than Islamists.

His appointment is part of continuing trend towards real Fascism, identified by Mike over at Vox Political, of which the Tories proposed curtailment of the freedom to demonstrate and protest in public is a major part. At the same time, it also appears to bear out the Labour left’s statement that the warmongers responsible for atrocities like Iraq and Libya are coming back. And I fear very much that they will start more wars.

The people warning against this and organising to defend real freedom of speech is the Labour left, whatever the Tories might say about ill-thought out legislation designed to outlaw ‘hate speech’. We need to support left politicos like Richard Burgon, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Diana Abbott and Apsana Begum. The last three ladies, along with former head of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, held another Zoom event as part of the Arise festival of left Labour ideas, Our right to resist – the Tory attacks on our civil liberties & human rights, in March. We need to support the Stop the War Coalition, because I’m afraid the Tories and the Blairite right in the Labour party will start more wars.

Blair lied, people died. And Johnson lies as easily and as often as other people breathe. If not stopped, the Neocons will start more wars and more innocents will be massacred for the profit of big business.

Ecuador, Socialism and the Destruction of Democracy in Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/04/2021 - 9:06pm in

Last night the Arise Festival, a series of events organised by the left-wing of the Labour party, staged a zoom talk about a possible socialist victory in the coming Ecuadorean elections, and the way the neoliberal right across the continent were trying to prevent left-wing parties and movements from forming governments. The speakers included Latin American journalists and activists as well as Brits. I regret that I was able to get no more than ten minutes of it. But what I did see was chilling.

The neolibs are clinging on to power, not through winning elections, but through using the legal system to ban and imprison their opponents on trumped up charges. In one country, the socialist party was banned from standing because the judges ruled they supported terrorism, all without any evidence or indeed any terrorism. The leading left-wing politico in Brazil, Lula, was falsely jailed on corruption charges, but has now been freed after spending 19 months in jail. And the president of one of the Latin American countries, Moreno, actually took power as a socialist but then, on obtaining office, declared that he was really a man of the right and started implementing right-wing policies.

I found this all particularly chilling as it could easily happen over here. The Tories are trying to scrap the protections Brits have under the European convention on human rights. The current wretched police and crime bill seeks to ban any protests or demonstrations they don’t like if they decide it’s going to cause a nuisance. I can see them using the judiciary to try to outlaw left-wing parties and falsely imprison politicians and activists, just as their counterparts are doing in Latin America. And Starmer is very definitely a neoliberal, but is trying to get into power by claiming he supports Corbyn’s left-wing programme.

This is all extremely frightening. So I stand in solidarity with the Latin American democratic left and urge everyone to reject the Tories’ assault on our traditional freedoms over here.

Labor makes another flimsy commitment to Palestinians

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/04/2021 - 4:45am in


Human rights

While Israel and Palestine are geographically distant, there’s no excuse for the Labor Party‘s out of touch support for a two-state solution, and for appearing unaware of critiques of the controversial Israeli supported definition of anti-Semitism.  

At their recent national conference, the Labor Party passed a resolution which starts with the mother and apple pie statement that the Labor Party supports the recognition and rights of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders.

Conclusions of the obvious mean nothing. Zionist supporters – the Israel right or wrong brigade – must be breathing down Labor’s neck, the party elders frightened to offend a lobby beneath whose yoke they have crouched for years.

Two State out of Date

When over 750,000 settlers occupy Palestinian lands, when the siege of Gaza is into a fifteenth year, when the right of return for millions of refugees is never taken seriously, mouthing support for a two state solution shows ignorance of these and other developments.

Ask Israeli commentators, Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin, anthropologist founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition Jeff Halper and the distinguished Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy. Each insists that Palestine is already one State, albeit divided along apartheid lines, the full rights of citizenship accorded only to the people of one religion, the others treated as of no consequence.

In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine is Gershon Baskin’s latest book. He is a committed mediator who recognizes the dignity of all parties, has visited towns, cities and refugee camps on a regular basis, still wants to be hopeful yet concludes, ‘The two-state solution is dead. It is time to look for a plan which outlaws discriminatory, racist, apartheid practices.’

Baskin asks, ‘How could Jews from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, or me from the United States, receive automatic citizenship while even first-degree relatives of Palestinian citizens of Israel whose families were living in the land for generations before Israel was born cannot become citizens.’

Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine is Jeff Halper’s latest book. He argues that colonization is the name of the game, that nothing short of decolonization will achieve a transformation and forge a new civil identity for Palestinians and Israelis. He insists that repetition of the two-state solution is   an irrelevant distraction. The possibility of two states disappeared years ago.

The ALP should consider the injustice in any potential Palestinian state. Erected on small, separate pieces of land, it would be a series of Bantustan-like reservations with no connections to historic Palestine, no borders, no entitlement to an army, navy, or air force. Is that what Labor supports?

Gideon Levy writes that since 1967, Palestinians have been subjects of suppression in a bi national state, but that has never meant one state with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians.

Levy’s insightful columns convey wisdom which the ALP might ponder. If Australians want to show ‘real friendship’ to Palestinians, he says, they could help by weaning Israel of its ‘addiction’ to one of the world’s most brutal and cruel occupations. On the possibilities of two states, Levy has warned,  Be realistic. The common denominator is racism. The settlers will not be evacuated.

Defining Anti-Semitism

The ALP’s adoption of the definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) looks like more compliance with an Israeli government’s wishes. Even the Liberal Party has not adopted it, neither has ABC management and even the IHRA author said he did not expect this document to become the gold standard for defining anti-Semitism.

Weeks ago, the Australian Committee on Fair and Free Speech (ACFFS) wrote to Anthony Albanese to ask why the ALP supports this IHRA definition. No reply has been received.

International commentators conclude that the IHRA definition stifles criticism of Israel and Zionism and has a chilling effect on free speech. Geoffrey Robertson, for example, says that the IHRA definition is imprecise, confusing, open to misinterpretation and even manipulation.

US Professor of journalism and political science Professor Peter Beinart considers anti-Zionism as not anti-Semitic. The IHRA definition ‘uses Jewish suffering to erase the Palestinian experience… World leaders must fight anti-Semitism, but this is not the way.’

Israeli academic, Professor of Law Neve Gordon argues, Israeli governments need the new anti-Semitism to justify their actions and to protect them from international and domestic condemnation.

The IHRA definition weaponizes anti-Semitism to stifle free speech and to suppress a politics of liberation. But the ALP has adopted it. Why on earth?

A recent Jewish Declaration on anti-Semitism provides a substantial alternative to the all-inclusive IHRA version. This Jewish Declaration was signed by scholars of Jewish Holocaust studies in North America, Europe, the UK & Israel. They argue it is not anti-Semitic to ‘support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.’

Support for the BDS Movement

Although a few courageous ALP members support the world-wide Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, ALP policy makers appear too anxious to ever take that step. Yet significant observers perceive the BDS movement as a light which gives hope, marshals international solidarity, and reminds the world of the ideals written into the ‘never again’ foundational UN covenant – never again anything resembling the Holocaust.

Jeff Halper argues that BDS is a principled non-violent movement which keeps alive the case for a democratic, bi-national state.

Distinguished international jurist Professor Richard Falk said that BDS implies an end to conflict by non-violence, as in respect for international law instead of by the bloody deeds of warfare.

In common with Jewish groups, If Not Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, which insist that opposition to Zionism is not anti-Semitic, authors of the Jewish Declaration describe boycotts as ‘commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states.’

When expressing his support for the BDS campaign, Gideon Levy also comments on its impact: ‘When you see the almost hysterical reaction of Israel and the Jewish establishment to BDS, this is the best proof that it’s effective.’

If committed to justice for Palestinians, Labor should ditch its rhetoric about the two-state solution and instead support civil action for the rights for all peoples in a democratic state. The ALP should reject the IHRA definition, and not be intimidated by any charges of anti-Semitism.

Courage to support the BDS movement would be enhanced if Labor stood its ground by explaining that the BDS movement has nothing to do with anti-Semitism let alone with the disappearance of Israel. A campaign which emphasizes a people’s rights to self-determination would surely not be opposed by a political party claiming to support justice?

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Book note: Emily Kenway, The Truth About Modern Slavery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 04/04/2021 - 2:36am in

I spend yesterday reading Emily Kenway’s excellent The Truth About Modern Slavery (Pluto Press, 2021). Kenway, a former advisor to the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner has her sights set on one of the most pernicious moral panics of recent years, espoused by right-wing politicians and “radical feminists” alike and used to legitimize a range of policy interventions, but particularly the hardening of borders, increased surveillance and, in relation to the sex industry, the “Nordic model”. Kenway’s argument is that the “modern slavery” industry, leveraging a parallel with actual slavery that is unjustified, promotes a focus on practices of coercion and exploitation that are represented as exceptional and abusive and as contaminating a system of labour and employment that is otherwise well-functioning. It leads to a discourse that emphasises the rescuing of victims from the evil gangs that exploit them and obscures the fact that the everyday operations of capitalism and the nation state generate the the conditions under which people make choices, often freely and rationally, to accept pretty horrible conditions, because those conditions are, for them, the best ones on offer. The book is very much focused on the UK, but readers elsewhere will certainly find parallels in their own countries.

Kenway is very good on the way in which the very same politician who have made “modern slavery” into a crusade have also been the ones who have increased the precarity that marginalized workers and irregular migrants experience. At the same time as May was issuing declarations on the subject, she was pioneering, as UK Home Secretary, the Hostile Environment that made it far more difficulty for migrants to get employment in the regular economy. Kenway highlights the ambigious status that workers at the sharp end of this discourse have: victims, if they are found dead in a trailer or “rescued” from a brothel; perpetrators and immigration offenders if they emerge from a trailer alive. The book is very up to date, but since its publication Priti Patel, the UK’s new Home Secretary, introducing a yet more restrictive immigration regime has complained that “illegals” are “abusing” the modern slavery protections in order to remain in the UK. So it goes.

Another strong point in the book is an examination of the way in which horror statistics are manufactured to fuel moral panic. How many trafficked women are there in the UK, for example? An academic study starting with 71 definite cases in 1998, moved through extrapolation to an upper bound of 1420, but by 2007 the now-disgraced MP Denis Macshane was confidently telling the House of Commons that there were 25,000 sex slave. Something must be done.

Kenway exposes the limitations of voluntary reporting of abusive practices by companies checking their supply chains (often difficult to impossible to achieve) and of suggestions that consumers can change practices by ethical shopping. If often turns out that plantations and factories with ethical certification have more abuse going on that those without. Rather, she argues for states tackling abuse through properly funded inspectorates and application of labour law. At present, even in countries such as the UK, sweatshops can thrive because the same policians who are banging on about modern slavery are starving factory inspectors of resources! Trade unions also provide a necessary defence against exploitation. And safe, legal migration pathways coupled with better wages and conditions in origin countries would both provide workers with better options and deny the unscrupulous the opportunities to take advantage of them. UBI gets a mention too, though not uncritically. “Modern slavery” is represented as contaminating something that is basically OK: the reality is that people face horrible choices and practices that are common in the mainstream of the economy (hello Amazon, Uber, Sports Direct) are cranked to an extreme for the most vulnerable. Recommended.

Passport To Freedom?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 4:01pm in

What are the consequences to immunity or vaccine passports? And will these temporary measures become the norm as we gradually forget that freedom is a natural condition?

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with founder of StopCommonPass, David Nolan, and Director of Electronic Frontier Foundation, Alexis Hancock, to discuss.

The post Passport To Freedom? appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Big opportunities for newly appointed Home Affairs Minister

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 4:34am in


Human rights

The National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society has welcomed the appointment of Karen Andrews to the Home Affairs portfolio, calling on her to release the Sri Lankan family from detention on Christmas Island as a matter of urgency.

Speaking shortly after the announcement of the Morrison Government’s ministerial reshuffle, National President, Claire Victory said Ms Andrews’ strident stance in recent days regarding the mistreatment of women in the Federal Parliament is a welcome sign that she will act on her convictions.

“I encourage the Minister to release the Sri Lankan family from Christmas Island where they have been detained for three years. They must be allowed to return to the Biloela community in Queensland, which has fought for their return. Detention is no place for two little girls,” Ms Victory said.

“I also encourage the Minister to revisit New Zealand’s offer to re-settle refugees from Manus and Nauru and to immediately release those still in Australian detention. 

“I stand with Australian women, to support the Minister in the early days of her new role to make these compassionate and sensible decisions.

“Apart from anything else, these three decisions would save the Australian taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

“And there are other pressing issues the Minister might visit in her early days in the portfolio, including streamlining a pathway to permanent residency for the many people currently existing on Temporary Protection Visas, and encouraging asylum seekers and refugees to work and settle in regional areas where there is a labour shortage due to the pandemic.

“I also encourage the Minister to look behind the veneer of labour hire arrangements where vulnerable workers have been exploited for years.

“Finally, we understand that 14 men currently held in detention in Papua New Guinea have Coronavirus. PNG’s Coronavirus cases have tripled in the last month. Their health system is on the brink of collapse.  We need to help our neighbours by providing more vaccines and medical staff, as a matter of urgency. 

“I will write to the Minister and look forward to meeting with her to discuss these issues further,” Ms Victory said.

This media release has been republished from the St Vincent de Paul Society 30 March 2021. Click here to read the original release.

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The jilbab: human rights in Indonesia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 4:44am in


Human rights

An Indonesian woman appears before God who will pass judgement. The almighty checks the freshly-deceased’s CV, noting she prayed regularly at the mosque, recited the Koran and lived an upright life.

However, she didn’t always wear a jilbab. For the sin of letting strangers see her glossy black locks, she’ll be condemned to the everlasting furnace, though not alone. Also cooking will be her male rellies who didn’t curb her willfulness, and Mum for her inability to raise a pious daughter.

As if the journey from child to adult isn’t traumatic enough, Ifa Hanifah Misbach had to endure the beliefs above, the condemnation of her deeply religious family, the slurs of her friends and the curses of Islamic leaders for using her intellect and exercising choice.

As a late teen, she sat under a pine tree on a hill in Bandung – the capital of West Java – ‘when my tears flowed constantly’. Where she also wrote a poem, A Little Girl Is Asking God.

At the online launch of the Human Rights Watch report: I Wanted to Run Away: Abusive Dress Codes for Women and Girls in Indonesia, Misbach read from the book of verse she conceived beneath the bough:

‘God, is it true that I’ll drag my late father and all my brothers to hell because I don’t veil? If so, that means all girls will bid not to be born into an Islamic family, if they’re like me, going to ask questions. ‘In the realm of eternity before entering the womb, they’ll ask to be born as sons only, because we daughters have no power over our own bodies.’

Misbach survived her intellectual wrestle and ’more than 30 years of bullying’ to be her own woman, undefined by men claiming the ability to faultlessly interpret religious texts.

She’s now 45, a Connecticut University graduate, an academic and psychologist back in Bandung.  Her architect brother Ridwan Kamil is the provincial Governor – and a likely contender for the presidency in 2024.

Misbach said two of her patients had tried to kill themselves because of the pressure to conform, and ‘body dysmorphic disorders’ were often seen.

The Human Rights Watch report asserts that pushing the jilbab is part of a movement ‘to reshape human rights protections in Indonesia’.

“It undermines women’s right to be free from discriminatory treatment based upon any grounds whatsoever under Indonesia’s Constitution. Women are entitled to the same rights as men, including the right to wear what they choose.’

The issue of equality in Australia is secular, the debate focusing on consent.  In Indonesia it’s about coercion to the point of resisters being denied schooling, work or promotion.

Research in 2019 found about 80 million Indonesians wear jilbab, mostly in Java. ‘It is unclear how many do so voluntarily and how many do so under legal, social, or familial pressure or compulsion.’  Until this century, films of everyday events showed most women scarfless.

It’s now the topic which elbows aside other concerns. The publisher of the online women’s magazine Magdalene was quoted saying: ‘No other women’s rights stories, from rapes to #MeToo rallies, from celebrities’ profiles to our long features, can compete with jilbab stories.’

As psychologist Alissa Wahid pointed out, this seems to be a ‘small issue in a grand landscape’ of problems besetting the Republic and its 270 million citizens, but it goes to deeper issues.

The eldest daughter of the late fourth president Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid, wears the kerudung, a loose headscarf revealing some hair as often seen in Pakistan.  ‘This is not about the jilbab,’ she said.  ‘It’s about human rights, justice, democracy and social harmony.’

The 96-page HRW document reports Komnas Perempuan [National Commission on Violence Against Women] had identified “421 ordinances passed between 2009-2016 that discriminate against women and religious minorities.”

Indonesia recognises six religions and has a Ministry of Religious Affairs. A citizen’s faith gets stamped on their ID card. Despite regular attempts by zealots to impose sharia law, the country remains constitutionally secular.

Said Alissa Wahid: ’The regulation is very important, crucial, to maintain the idea of Indonesia as a cohesive nation-state. Everyone has the right to religious freedom.’

Indonesia has 34 provinces, with 24 predominantly Islam. After some parents protested local governments and schools were making the jilbab compulsory for non-Muslims, President Joko Widodo stirred himself. The President ordered all administrations and the nation’s 300,000 state schools to revoke mandatory jilbab regulations. Intransigents risk sanctions, including withholding education funds.

The cheering lessened once the exclusions were discovered. The decree doesn’t apply in the province of Aceh which makes its own religious laws, or the 30,000 pesantren [Muslim schools]. Fundamentalists used the Trump truth-twisting trick by claiming the Jakarta order is a sign of Islamophobia and means girls will be forced to abandon their headscarves.

Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson called on the Indonesian government to end all discriminatory laws.

She described Indonesia’s clothing regulations as “part of a broader attack by conservative religious forces on gender equality and the ability of women and girls to exercise their rights to an education, a livelihood, and social benefits.”

First, they must convince themselves that heading outside sans scarf won’t lead to the pit of perdition. That journey’s maybe a mite easier with stories of tough trekkers like Ifa Hanifah Misbach helping guide the fearful.

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The Only Treatment is Freedom: Mumia Abu-Jamal and COVID

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 4:29am in

The inextricable link between incarceration and standards of democracy in a country led the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky to observe that, “The degree of civilization in society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Read more ›

The post The Only Treatment is Freedom: Mumia Abu-Jamal and COVID appeared first on New Politics.

Australia’s human rights failings seriously exposed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 4:56am in


Human rights

Every four years, all member states of the United Nations are required to submit their human rights record for review by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Australia had its turn in January this year. By any account, Australia’s record with respect to the protection of human rights remains relatively satisfactory. However, the recent interchange that took place between Australia and other member states of the UNHRC disclosed the existence of serious deficits in our protective responsibilities.

As part of the process of review, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) produced a compilation document that summarised the reports and recommendations of the UN’s human rights treaty bodies on Australia during the past five years. This document laid the foundation for the inter-state dialogue which followed. It makes depressing and sometimes alarming reading.

Unsurprisingly, the report focused heavily upon three principal human rights concerns: the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the situation of Australia’s indigenous peoples, and the nation’s counter-terrorism laws. But it travelled far more widely than that. There can be no doubt that Australia’s human rights record has deteriorated significantly.

The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the Australian government had been failing in its non-refoulement responsibilities. The non-refoulement principle is embedded in the International Refugee Convention. The principle states that no person seeking asylum should be returned to their country of origin when there is a real risk that they will be seriously harmed or killed if they do so. It is well known, tragically, that a number of returnees have suffered these consequences.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants sharply criticised the Australian Government’s punitive policies concerning so-called unauthorised maritime arrivals (boat people). He noted that unauthorised arrivals by air were treated far more leniently and that no legitimate reason could be found for the distinction.

‘Boat people’ faced a host of obstacles. The Rapporteur sharply criticised policies that resulted in refugees being subjected to arbitrary, mandatory and prolonged detention. Refugees have been detained for up to seven years pending the resolution of their claims for asylum. They have been imprisoned in offshore detention camps, indefinitely separated from their families, faced restrictions with respect to their social security entitlements and deprived of any avenue towards permanent residence.

Since 2013, 12 asylum seekers have died in detention – six from suicide. Asylum seekers have been kept in exceptionally harsh conditions, denied access to legal representation and contact with family and friends. They have suffered sexual assaults by security guards and acts of violence from other detainees.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed deep concern at the transfer of innocent people seeking asylum offshore to PNG and Nauru. It made clear its opinion that Australia was fully accountable for the treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities. It rejected out of hand Australia’s contention that detention conditions were the responsibility of the governments of Papua-New Guinea and Nauru.

In a detailed submission to the UNHRC, Human Rights Watch recommended ending mandatory detention, introducing reasonable time-limits for detention, ensuring that asylum seekers were detained only as a last resort. Their asylum claims should be dealt with promptly, thoroughly, decently and fairly in accordance with the International Refugee Convention. Their access to judicial review should be guaranteed.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples observed that indigenous peoples were drastically over-represented in the criminal justice system. In 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprised 28% of Australia’s adult prison population, but just 3% of the national population. The disconcertingly high rate of incarceration included women and children.

Deaths in custody for Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander prisoners remained a terrible problem. Between January 2016 and July 2020, there were at least 48 deaths of indigenous people in custody. A recent analysis of deaths in custody concluded that correctional services failures to follow their own protective guidelines and to provide appropriate medical care contributed significantly to the rising rate of indigenous fatalities. Writing to the UNHRC, the Law Council of Australia stated that in 2018 indigenous children were 21 times more likely than non-indigenous children to be in detention on an average night.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders stated that counter-terrorism laws had increased secrecy provisions in legislation and that the cumulative effect of these laws had been to create significant barriers to reporting on human rights abuses and to whistleblowing related to misconduct in governmental office. The Human Rights Committee expressed serious concern with respect to the necessity and proportionality of counter-terrorism powers including control orders, stop search and seizure powers, preventive and post-sentence detention order regimes and the revocation of citizenship.

The Special Rapporteur expressed his alarm that state and territory governments had legislated constraints upon freedom of assembly, especially through laws restricting legitimate, peaceful protest, including environmental protest. The Rapporteur came down hard on Australia’s metadata laws. These required telecommunications providers to retain every Australians’ metadata for two years and permitted a host of governmental agencies to access metadata which could be used to identify journalists’ confidential sources.

The UN Human Rights Committee was critical of the absence of a requirement of a judicial warrant as the precondition for access to metadata. It recommended strengthening the safeguards against arbitrary interference with the privacy of citizens by introducing greater judicial control over access to the metadata held and maintained by private telecommunications providers.

The same committee expressed deep concern that new laws enacted in Australia have increased the penalties for unauthorised disclosures of governmental information. These laws have already begun to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and contributed to the intimidation of journalists engaged in legitimate investigation of alleged governmental wrongdoing. The ongoing prosecution (persecution) of Witness K and Bernard Collaery SC is the most damning example.

Every one of the seven major UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies criticised Australia’s human rights performance in those three key areas. But international condemnation was not limited to them alone. The compilation document published by the OHCHR travelled far more widely. To take some relevant examples: the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted that disturbing reports had emerged regarding discrimination against Australia’s indigenous peoples. It expressed concern more generally that racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia had been on the rise.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights criticised the lack of progress made in closing the gender wage gap and the concentration of women in low-paid sectors of the economy and part-time work. The Human Rights Committee deplored violence against women and domestic violence in particular. It observed that violence occurred most widely against indigenous women and women with disabilities. The existence of widespread sexual harassment of women in the workplace and in education was a source of very considerable concern.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was troubled by the fact that victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy had been required to sign deeds of release preventing them from pursuing justice through the courts. Further, it recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be lifted from 10 to 14 years. The Committee urged Australia to register all children, in particular indigenous children, at birth.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed alarm at the increase in carbon dioxide emissions and Australia’s continuing commitment to new coal mines and coal-fired power stations. The Childrens’ Rights Committee urged Australia, for inter-generational reasons, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by establishing targets to phase out the use of coal and accelerate a transition to renewable sources of energy.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders sharply criticised the Australian government for undermining the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission. He recommended the establishment of an independent inquiry into the attempts by Ministers and senior government officials to intimidate and denigrate the Commission and its former President, Professor Gillian Triggs, amongst other things.

It is remarkable that Australia’s principal critics during the universal review process have been diplomatic representatives from other Western democracies. Australia remains the only Western democracy without a Charter of Rights. Time perhaps to rethink this omission.

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Viral Video Shows IDF Arresting Vegetable-Picking Palestinian Kids at Behest of Israeli Settlers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 11:55pm in

OCCUPIED WEST BANK — On March 10, five Palestinian boys hoped to spend their day foraging for vegetables south of their home in the occupied West Bank. Instead, they spent it detained for hours in Israeli custody.

The children — ages eight to thirteen — were violently arrested by Israeli forces in southern Hebron while picking akoub, a wild, thistle-like vegetable that blooms in spring. Video of the arrest sparked international condemnation and called into question Israel’s routine practice of detaining Palestinian children.

In the video, the visibly frightened children are seen being pulled and shoved into army vehicles by soldiers. Bystanders are heard shouting as the boys cry and struggle to get away from the soldiers.

Nasser Nawajaa, a field researcher for Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, captured the children’s arrest on camera. “One of B’Tselem’s volunteers called me and said, ‘The army is chasing children who are picking akoub,’” Nawajaa said. When he arrived from nearly two miles away, Nawajaa immediately began filming.

“There were [dozens] of soldiers around, and one of the soldiers dragged one of the children to the vehicle and the other soldiers followed and started to arrest them,” Nawajaa said. “We begged the soldiers to wait until the children’s families could come and talk to their families, but that didn’t help.”

The children were taken to a police station in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba and detained from 12:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., Nawajaa said. The two older boys, ages 12 and 13 — were called back into the police station for questioning on March 21 because they are over the age of criminal responsibility, which is 12 according to Israeli law. Nawajaa said they were interrogated for about two to three hours before their release.


Arrested at the “request of settlers”

The children were collecting akoub near the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Ma’on — notorious for settler violence. While all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, they are not illegal under Israeli law. Only settlement outposts are considered illegal by Israeli authorities because they are built without government approval. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Palestinian children had to be escorted by the military when going to school because of frequent settler attacks.

Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem’s international advocacy officer, said on Twitter that the children were arrested at the “request of settlers” for allegedly stealing parrots from the outpost.

However, Roy Yellin, director of public outreach at B’Tselem, said the army’s accusation that the children were caught stealing parrots came out only after B’Tselem published the video. “According to Gaby Lasky, the children’s lawyer, the allegations of stealing parrots did not come up in the interrogation,” Yellin said.

“It’s also unclear why the army operated at the behest of the settlers and took their rather outlandish version of events at face value,” Yellin continued. “I can swear to God that if a child in Tel Aviv had stolen parrots from a pet shop, nothing like this would have ever happened to him.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement that the children were arrested for “entering a private property.” A military patrol located the children and then “transferred them to the Israeli police for further processing,” the IDF told MintPress News.

Israel Police did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


Everyday reality for Palestinian children

Forceful arrest and hours-long detention is a normal part of Palestinian childhood.

Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer at Palestinian prisoner rights organization Addameer, stated:

The Israeli occupation forces use the policy of absolute brutality and aggressiveness while arresting Palestinians in general. And this brutality begins from the moment of arrest and continues to the interrogation phase, the detention phase — during the whole process children are subject to brutality by the Israeli occupation forces.”

Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) estimates that Israeli forces detain and prosecute 500 to 700 children between the ages of 12 and 17 every year. According to Addameer, 140 children are currently imprisoned by Israel and two are under administrative detention, where Israeli authorities detain an individual without charge. The reason for the detention is unknown to the detainee and lawyer, and considered a matter of security.

In some cases of child detention, DCIP said, “Israeli forces’ treatment may amount to torture.”

palestinian children

Israeli police place a Palestinian boy in a chokehold in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 17, 2017. Mahmoud Illean | AP

“Nearly three-quarters of children have reported to DCIP that they were subjected to physical violence at the hands of Israeli forces, and close to 60% are verbally abused, humiliated and intimidated, most often during their arrest and subsequent transfer to an interrogation center,” Shaina Low, advocacy officer at DCIP said in an email. She continued:

Nearly all children (95%) have their hands bound and around 86% are blindfolded. The vast majority of children (85%) are not informed of the reason for arrest, and two-thirds of children are not properly informed of their rights. Nearly all children are interrogated without a parent present, and children have no right to an attorney during interrogation. One third of children report being threatened and coerced into confessing.”

Yet while detention can be physically tormenting for children, the psychological aspect of it is what stays with children in the long-term.

“It’s a social thing for Palestinians,” Addameer’s Ansari said. “When children get detained and imprisoned, they become men and it deprives them from living their innocence and imposes on them to become tough and try to overcome the obstacles that they are under.”


International outcry

“It was so disturbing seeing those heavily armed Israeli soldiers detaining small, terrified Palestinian children,” Rep. McCollum told MintPress News. “As a policymaker, but also as a mother and a grandmother, I was witnessing a state-sponsored action that was intended to inflict trauma on children. It is appalling and it is a human rights abuse.”

Dylan Williams — senior vice president of J Street, an American organization advocating for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — also called the arrest “disturbing.”

“It must be investigated, including whether any of that military equipment is American-made and being used in violation of U.S. law,” Williams wrote on Twitter.

Just two days after the controversial arrest, progressive members of Congress sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken two letters pushing for Palestinian rights. The House letter, whose dozen signatories included Rep. McCollum, covered Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, the issue of annexation, and Israel’s obligation under international law to vaccinate all Palestinians. The letter specified:

“We request that the State Department undertake an investigation into Israel’s possible use of U.S. equipment in these home demolitions and determine whether these materials have been used in violation of the Arms Export Control Act or any U.S.-Israeli end-use agreements…

“Israel’s ongoing colonization of the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, alongside its demolition of Palestinian homes, is a form of ongoing, de facto annexation, which needs to be unequivocally opposed by the United States…

“The message from this Administration must be clear: settler colonialism in any form — including Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — is illegal under international law and will not be tolerated.”

The Senate letter urged President Joe Biden’s administration to pressure Israel to vaccinate all Palestinians. The letter was signed by five senators, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Traditionally, American politicians have turned a blind eye to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. But the status quo appears to be shifting as the progressive wing of Congress grows louder with their calls for Palestinian liberation and condemnation of Israel’s violence.

Editor’s Note | This article was updated to include comment from Rep. Betty McCollum.

Feature photo  | B’Tselem

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

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