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DOMESTIC CULPRIT AND INTERNATIONAL
Posted Tue 4-Apr-2000; 7:00am
AUSTRALIA: DOMESTIC CULPRIT AND INTERNATIONAL HERO
"What about Australia's Human Rights Viloations!"--that was from a
poster by Aboriginal (Indigenous Australian) protester during UN
Secretary-General's visit to Canberra. What appear to happen was that
UNSG Kofi Annan certainly praised the efforts of Australia on East Timor
during his visit. But any one would be mistaken to think that the
United Nations, or any genuine NGOs, can be treated like interest-based
domestic lobby groups--government can make deals with them on give and
take basis. This phenomenon is understandable: the issues that involve
human rights and justice simply cannot be "traded" as commodities. The
UN Human Rights Committee, as in following news items, is condemning
Australia's human rights record in regards to the treatment of
Aborigines. Two UN Special Rapporteurs are on their way to Australia to
investigate the matters. The Government here is 'hopping mad' about the
report they received, and accused UN of political interference.
Whether the Governments in Australia is "maliciously racist" towards
Aborigines to pass the mandatory sentencing laws, or UN CERD lack
credibility since being influenced by NGOs are up to one's owns
judgment, of course. However, Australian Society as a whole is moving
towards reconciliation with Aborigines--this cannot be mistaken. On the
issues of reconciliation, the voices by some domestic lobby, which
dependent upon government funding, may have die down. But the voices
from Churches and most other NGOs are as strong as ever..
As for the criticism of UN interference in domestic politics, it may be
simply the case that Australian politicians are misinterpreting the work
of UN Human Rights system. One observable fact from recent human rights
report on Burma (E/CN.4/2000/38) is that it include the section on
social and economic rights. I think this (inclusion of social, economic
and cultural rights in consideration in human rights reports) is quite
new. In addition, if these rights--which directly connected to social
justice issues-- are considered, there will be the scrutiny on how a
country is governed etc..
There is a topics that concerns with Australian Government treatment of
refugees in the CERD report. I'll further communicate to our friends if
there is anything we can do.
With best regards, U Ne Oo.
MANDATORY-DOWNER FED: CERD GOES BEYOND ITS CONVENTION, SAYS
DATE: 09:13 31-Mar-00
Fed: CERD goes beyond its convention, says Downer Mandatory Downer
CANBERRA, March 31 AAP - The United Nations' anti-racism committee had
gone beyond its brief in taking Australia to task on its race record,
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said today.
Yesterday he announced a review of the UN treaty system following a
savaging by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
(CERD), which included criticism of mandatory sentencing.
But Mr Downer said Australia had no intention of withdrawing from the
committee system and its human rights obligations.
"What we want to do is make sure that the committee system works better
than it currently does," he told Radio National.
"We have been unhappy since 1996 with how this committee system works,
and frankly our experiences in particular, but not only, with ... CERD
... have been very unhappy.
"It just reminds us of the importance of getting the process improved
Mr Downer said the government was concerned with the way the committees
were administered, the enormous backlogs and overly onerous reporting
requirements on countries.
He said too much emphasis was given to political views of
non-government organisations (NGOs) while anything a democratically
elected government had to say was virtually ignored.
Mr Downer said Australian NGOs went off to CERD and stirred up
particular people to produce a report consistent with a political line
critical of the government.
He said questions on whether Prime Minister John Howard should
apologise to the stolen generation or express deep and sincere regret
were not covered by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
"Questions on whether we should spend a little bit more or a little bit
less (on indigenous issues) are domestic political issues. The
convention is silent on those sorts of issues," he said.
Mr Downer said because Immigration and Reconciliation Minister Philip
Ruddock led the government delegation, CERD decided to throw in
criticism of refugee policy.
He said mandatory sentencing laws in Western Australia and the Northern
Territory were flawed but manifestly not racially based.
"The point about indigenous incarceration is a point well taken, but
that's not peculiar to the mandatory sentencing laws. That's relevant
to a whole range of different laws," Mr Downer said.
He said Australia was different from countries like Iraq or Burma
telling the UN to butt out as Australia had a democratically elected
government and was not maliciously racist.
He said: "Let's get real about this. We all know that our government is
democratically elected ... and secondly we all in our hearts know ...
that we don't have governments which are maliciously racist or (which)
put in place laws to advance the interests of one racial group over
another. Of course we don't have governments that want to do that,
regardless of their political complexions," he said.
EDITORIAL: The Australian 1-2 April 2000
SCEPTICAL RESPONSE NEEDED TO UN VIEWS
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has aroused a predictable chorus of
complaint with his announcement that Australia is to reconsider its
involvement in various committeses that administer UN Human Rights
treaties. The particular reason for discontent is the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which has made adverse reports on
mandatory sentencing in the Northern Terrtory and Western Australia --
and on federal native title legislation. Amnesty International says Mr
Downer's statement represents a deplorable lack of respect. Yet healthy
disrespect is overdue. Mr Downer's suggestion that various UN committees
-- CERD in particular -- have become captive to domestic political
lobbies has some force.
But even if the processes of CERD lack credibility, its broad
conclusion about mandatory sentencing happens to be correct. These laws
are unacceptable in principle. They do have a racially biased impact in
practice. Of course, Australia';s legitimate complaints about CERD might
receive a fairer hearing were the Government determined, regardless of
CERD, to do the right thing about mandatory sentencing. But it has yet
to show that determination. Australia should not need a UN committee to
point out the nature of mandatory sentencing. Nor, so far is there any
sign that the UN committee verdict will influence the Government's
Hence the futility of attempts to misuse UN committees. As withthe
native title legislation modifying the 1996 Wik judgment, domestic
oponents unable to prevail in democratic forums show an increasing
tendency to resort to UN Committees. Australian activists within
non-government organisations typically are part of the same networks
that produce committee members. There is a broad sympathy of ideological
outlook When a UN committee predictably produces a report repeating the
arguments that did not prevail domestically, it is hailed as a
independent and definitive statement. It becomes a means of reviving a
domestic lobbying effort. The practice is destructive. For social reform
to be effective and enduring, it must be accepted as legitimate. If
Aboriginal disadvantage is to be remedied, it must be done by Australian
society and its democratic organs. In the same way, mandatory sentencing
should be brought to an end by processes internal to Australia. Critics
of Australian policy who would bypass local institutions only make them
less likely sponsors for future reform.
POSTMAIL: Dr U Ne Oo, 18 Shannon Place, Adelaide SA 5000, AUSTRALIA