29 August 2001
In this issue:
Bush-Cheney Energy Plan Could Aggravate Ethnic Conflicts
Japan - Is Tokyo Feeling Pressured to Re-Arm?
Taiwan - Taiwan Faces Major Political Tilt
Hong Kong - Police Studying Rioters Tactics
Tibet - Nuns, Monks Expelled From Huge Community
Philippines - HR Abuses Rising Since Arroyo Took Power
Indonesia - Megawati-Military Co-operation Will Not Last
East Timor - Timorese Prepares for First Democratic Parliament
Malaysia - Report Accuses Police of Cruelty to Protesters
Burma - Talks Only Hope for Burma to End Pariah Status
WCAR - "Racism No More"
Australia - A Refugee Crisis
Asia Regional Working Group on Justpeace in Asia
|1. FEATURE - top|
BUSH-CHENEY ENERGY PLAN COULD AGGRAVATE ETHNIC CONFLICTS
Abid Aslam and Jim Lobe
With its strong emphasis on increasing global supplies of oil and gas, the Bush administration's energy plan--which Congress began debating this month--could aggravate latent or ongoing ethnic conflicts in West Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus, South America, and Southeast Asia.
In most of these regions, ethnic tensions are already high and, in some cases, have escalated into armed conflict. Yet the administration's plan, entitled Reliable, Affordable and Environmentally Sound Energy for America's Future, fails to mention these problems in its analysis of overseas prospects, suggesting a myopia that could have devastating consequences in the long run.
Recent history has shown that abundant energy resources are at least as much a curse as a blessing for poor nations with large populations. In cases ranging from Angola to Iran, and from Indonesia to Nigeria, big export earnings from oil and gas generally have failed to trickle down to the vast majority of the population, let alone to disadvantaged ethnic minorities forced to endure the environmental damage caused by resource exploitation.
By calling for stepped-up efforts to extract and transport more oil and gas from these regions, the Bush-Cheney energy plan risks aggravating local conflicts in three main ways.
First, its emphasis on supply will encourage exploration and production everywhere there is a hint of energy waiting to be tapped--including in increasingly remote regions, such as indigenous lands in Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia, which have acted as a refuge for minorities who are hostile to--or unprepared for--the kinds of transformations that large-scale energy projects bring.
Second, minorities on whose land energy resources are found often have been denied their fair share of profits, increasing tensions and anger directed against the central government and the companies, as in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Third, the foreign investment that makes energy exploitation possible is often tied by the U.S. government, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the host government's adoption of free-market economic policies, such as privatisation, which frequently create or widen gaps between rich and poor within countries. As a result, minority communities that may already suffer economic marginalisation could find their situation reduced even further vis-à-vis other groups, or communal tensions within countries may rise as austerity associated with liberal reforms takes hold. (Thus, for example, pressures on federal and state budgets in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s played an important role in the country's bloody dissolution.)
One or more of these factors applies to virtually all of the areas targeted by the plan.
West Africa: Niger Delta peoples' struggles against the Nigerian and state governments and foreign companies, including Shell and ExxonMobil, have resulted in considerable bloodshed over the past decade. In June, local communities assailed the World Bank's International Finance Corporation for approving loans to local commercial banks that would then lend the money to Shell contractors. Shell is being sued in U.S. courts for alleged complicity with the military government in the 1995 arrest, trial, and execution of nine activists from the Ogoni community. Even under the elected government of President Olesegun Obasanjo, the region has remained under virtual occupation. In 1999, Nigerian security forces razed an Ijaw community of 15,000 (Odi) killing dozens of unarmed citizens. Oil revenues and their regional distribution remain a source of great contention in the broader national conflict among the country's three largest ethnic groups, the Hausa-Fulani in the North, the Yoruba of the West, and the Igbo in the South. Washington has provided training and equipment for Nigerian troops since Obasanjo took over.
Other countries to which the administration is looking to increase global supplies are also riven by conflict. The ruinous conflict between Angola's ruling MPLA party and Unita rebels, much of it based on underlying ethnic divisions, dates from the cold war. While Unita relies on its ability to recruit from its Ovimbindu base to continue the war, the inhabitants of oil-rich Cabinda enclave have sought independence from Luanda for some 40 years. Chevron, Texaco, and ExxonMobil all have investments in Angola.
Meanwhile, the latest entry into the regional oil rush--apart from tiny Equatorial Guinea, which has its own ethnic problems--is Chad, where ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Malaysia's Petronas are building an oil and gas pipeline to Cameroon's Atlantic coast with the help of World Bank and U.S. Export-Import Bank financing. ExxonMobil has acknowledged that security concerns in Cameroon played a role in its decision to opt for an offshore storage and distribution facility. Pipelines will run through ecologically sensitive rainforests, the last refuge to the Baka Pygmy people. Although Chad is currently peaceful, its northern- and Muslim-dominated central government has long had an uneasy relationship with the mainly Christian southerners, some of whose political leaders were arrested after recent elections, prompting barely a peep of protest from Washington.
Central Asia and the Caucasus: The Bush-Cheney plan devotes considerable attention to this region, whose proven oil and gas reserves exceed those of the North Sea. Among the U.S. companies with major investments there are ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP Amoco, and Phillips Petroleum. Washington showed a strong interest in the region's energy resources during the Clinton administration, which began building extensive military ties with some of the new states--despite rising tensions among them, some due to ethnic problems.
In addition, the energy plan strongly endorses construction of the controversial Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which would pump Kazakh and Azeri oil and gas all the way through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and across Turkey to its main Mediterranean port. The pipeline would traverse ethnically explosive territory. Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, has been the site of bloody fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the past decade, for example, while Georgia, which borders Chechnya, has suffered two ethnic rebellions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the same period. The pipelines would also pass through much of eastern Turkey, where a protracted conflict with Kurds has taken thousands of lives.
The administration has become deeply involved in peace talks over Nagorno-Karabakh. It continues to provide military aid to Georgia and appears intent on maintaining strong military ties with Turkey, one of its closest NATO allies.
Algeria: According to the energy plan, Algeria, along with several Persian Gulf states, is a major target for efforts to "open up... to foreign investment" and expand trade in energy-related goods and services. Significantly, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika became the first Algerian head of state in 15 years to be greeted at the White House in July, just a month after unprecedented clashes between security forces and the minority Berber population in the depressed Kabylie region resulted in scores of deaths. Although the meeting was low profile, Bush and Bouteflika discussed increased U.S. investment in Algeria's oil sector and enhanced military cooperation.
South America: Similarly, the plan speaks of working ''to improve the energy investment climate'' in Brazil and Venezuela. As elsewhere in South America, particularly Colombia and Ecuador, much of the remaining reserves of oil in these countries are found within territory settled or claimed by indigenous groups who, particularly in the Andean region, have become increasingly insistent about their rights.
Southeast Asia: The plan highlights the need to build Asian reserves but focuses primarily on regional giant India, which has asked for help to maximise its domestic oil and gas production. Virtually ignored in the report are two key regional producers--Indonesia and Burma--where U.S. companies have important investments.
Production in both countries has proven problematic, particularly because of ethnic conflicts directly related to energy company operations. In Burma, a pipeline to pump gas from the Andaman Sea to Thailand traverses territory occupied by minority groups, many of which have been in rebellion for much of the country's history. In order to ensure the pipeline's construction, the Burmese army occupied villages along its route and forcibly drafted civilians into work crews. California-based Unocal, one of the companies involved in the project, has been sued in federal court for complicity in the abuses.
A similar suit was filed last month against ExxonMobil for its alleged co-operation with the Indonesian army in abuses against people in Aceh, the country's most important oil-producing province and now the centre of its most threatening rebellion. A low-level insurgency launched in 1977, the conflict has become particularly deadly over the past two years--so much so that ExxonMobil suspended operations last March due to growing security concerns. Jakarta has since reinforced troops in the region, and the Indonesian government and the state's oil company, Pertamina, have asked that the U.S. energy corporation resume operations in Aceh.
(Abid Aslam and Jim Lobe are contributing editors at Foreign Policy in Focus and journalists for Inter Press Service, an international news agency.)
|2. NEWS in Brief - top|
IS TOKYO FEELING PRESSURED TO RE-ARM?
The Aug. 13 visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to Japanese war dead, including several class-A war criminals from World War II, drew sharp criticism from East Asia, where it was viewed as a glorification of Japan's militarist past.
Choi Seong Hong, South Korea's vice minister of foreign affairs and trade, personally delivered a message to the Japanese ambassador expressing the government's "regret" and warning of rising anti-Japanese sentiments in Korea.
The diplomatic dispute between Seoul and Tokyo, which hinders co-operation between two key U.S. military allies, will inevitably draw U.S. involvement. Washington, which has already tacitly supported Seoul's position, will be forced to give a stronger response. Feeling increasingly isolated, Japan ultimately will embark on a path to re-establish itself as an independent and self-protecting entity.
The resurgence of anti-Japanese sentiments in South Korea presents a difficult situation for Washington. The developing U.S. defense strategy for Asia calls for closer multilateral and bilateral co-operation among the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
TAIWAN FACES MAJOR POLITICAL TILT
Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui has helped launch a new political party. The new party could significantly affect Taiwan's political system as it will attempt to end the long-term parliamentary majority held by the nationalist Kuomintang party. If the new Taiwan Solidarity Union wins enough seats in December elections, it will impel President Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic People's Party to expand direct economic links with China while sidelining the issue of reunification with the mainland.
A faction of Taiwan's nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party split off to form a new political party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), announced on Aug. 12. While remaining a KMT member, former President Lee Teng-hui proclaimed himself the moral and spiritual leader of the TSU, which aims to gain about 40 seats in Taiwan's 225-member parliament in December elections.
The formation of the TSU promises to significantly realign Taiwan's political system. The new party is expected to siphon off many votes from the KMT and the more pro-independence Democratic People's Party (DPP), to which President Chen Shui-bian belongs. Lee has urged the TSU to support Chen and the DPP.
Though Chen is president, the opposition KMT has a majority in parliament with 113 seats, compared with 77 controlled by the DPP. Thus, if the KMT were to lose only 19 seats to TSU, this would give a DPP-TSU coalition the largest bloc in parliament with 96 seats, ending KMT's majority. This would persuade Chen to increase direct economic ties with mainland China. With some $30 billion in cross-strait trade expected this year, such ties would be the key to reviving Taiwan's ailing economy. The economic issue, however, remains intricately entwined with the thornier political issue of reunification with China.
POLICE STUDYING RIOTERS TACTICS
Police are studying the tactics of overseas anti-globalisation rioters to guard against attempts to disrupt two economic forums to be held in the SAR this year. Senior Assistant Commissioner (Crime and Security) Lau Chun-sing said police were alert to the increasingly violent clashes between anti-globalisation protesters and law enforcers overseas, including the bloodshed at the recent G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy.
Mr Lau said activists were highly mobile and would probably stage protests during the World Economic Forum meeting in October and the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council meeting in November. "Police believe anti-globalisation activists will make use of the chance to stage demonstrations in Hong Kong," he said.
Mr Lau said police had been liasing with overseas counterparts to keep a track of trends in the protest movement, including the tactics demonstrators adopt to break into security zones. "From the experiences in Europe and America, the activists have tried to use radios to interfere with police communication," Mr Lau said.
"In one of the cities, they succeeded in causing interference for half an hour and seriously affected police deployment," he said. Senior Assistant Commissioner (Operations) Ng Wai-kit said police might visit some host cities of forthcoming economic forums to check anti-protest measures ahead of the SAR events.
NUNS,MONKS EXPELLED FROM HUGE COMMUNITY
Beijing has expelled hundreds, if not thousands, of Tibetan nuns and monks from a remote Buddhist institute and dismantled many of their hillside homes to tighten its grip on an important religious centre.
Tibetan support groups and Chinese residents of a nearby town said the dismantling of homes at Serthar had started in June and many of the residents - once estimated at 6,000 to 7,000 - had been forced to leave.
The Tibetan Information Network office in London quoted sources who had recently left the settlement as saying the moves had been made on order from Beijing. The objective was to reduce the size of the community to about 1,000 monks and 400 nuns by October.
The Serthar religious settlement - founded by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog in 1980 to help revive Buddhist scholarship and meditation - housed the largest concentration of monks and nuns in Tibetan areas and included nearly 1,000 Han Chinese students.
Asked about demolitions, another official said he could not discuss the events with outsiders. But residents said many houses had been dismantled and most of the nuns, estimated at about 3,000 at one point, had been forced to leave. "The nuns left first. Then some of the monks," a resident said. Roads to the settlement were sealed off before officials and armed police moved in to prepare the clearing operation.
The whereabouts of founder Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog, 68, were unclear. He has been said to be confined to his residence and kept under supervision. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog was recognised in his teens as the Reincarnation of Lerab Lingpa (1856-1926), a Nyingma teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama. He was singled out as a "class enemy" during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, although he survived by living in remote and isolated areas.
HR ABUSES RISING SINCE AROYO TOOK POWER
In a Luzon-wide conference held last August 23, human-rights groups tallied continuing human-rights violations under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Southern Tagalog registered the highest number of violations among the regions. Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the government and the National Democratic Front remains to be implemented.
Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power in January this year, 48 persons have been killed in 28 cases of summary execution and two incidents of massacre in Luzon. There have also been 45 victims in 21 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Meanwhile, 87 political prisoners continue to languish in various jails in Luzon.
These findings came out during the Luzon-wide human-rights conference held at Miriam College in Quezon City last August 23. Karapatan, the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace and the Miriam Youth for Justice and Peace hosted the conference. At least 55 human-rights advocates from different provinces in Luzon participated.
In the wake of the increasing number of rights violations, the conference participants called on the Arroyo government to implement the human-rights agreement it signed with the National Democratic Front (NDF) titled Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
CARHRIHL was the first substantive product of the on-and-off government-NDF peace negotiations and was ratified by both parties in 1998. When the talks resumed in Oslo, Norway last April under the Arroyo administration, the two panels agreed to form the Joint Monitoring Committee stipulated in CARHRIHL. This committee will monitor the compliance of both NDF and government forces to the CARHRIHL.
MAGAWATI-MILITARY CO-OPERATION WILL NOT LAST
New Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Cabinet of "national unity," announced Aug. 9, comprises a broad group of representatives of political parties and affiliations. The appointments essentially constitute payback to political factions that aided her ascension to the presidency. But their diversity of political beliefs will render Cabinet members incapable of working as a cohesive group. As a result, Megawati and the Indonesian military will retain actual power to run the country.
The first few months of the new presidency will be a honeymoon period as Megawati and the military cooperate to achieve national stability. But once the country's internal situation calms, new rifts between the president and military will inevitably appear, endangering Megawati's position.
An initial state of stability in Indonesia since Megawati's inauguration on July 23 is paving the way for renewed international investment. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have reinstituted loan tranches worth more than $1 billion. Foreign investors are expected to take advantage of the smooth climate and low labour costs. Oil production, particularly by ExxonMobil, should continue without the threat of violence from regional separatists.
TIMORESE PREPARES FOR FIRST DEMOCRATIC PARLIAMENT
East Timor takes a giant leap towards nationhood on 30 August when up to 425,000 voters go to the polls to choose their first democratic parliament after an election campaign remarkable for its peacefulness.
In contrast to the scenes of terror some two years ago, Dili's streets were the setting for exuberant carnival-style campaigning, with loyalists of the 16 parties contesting the poll parading in hooting convoys and filling the capital's stadium for rallies.
The August 30 vote falls on the second anniversary of East Timor's last ballot in which almost 80 percent voted for independence from Jakarta after 24 years of Indonesian occupation and 400 years of Portuguese rule.
Monitoring tomorrow's poll will be some 500 foreign observers who have been flown in to join 1,000 East Timorese observers. Almost 1,500 international United Nations police and the 850-strong East Timorese police force are securing the polling booths in the territory's 13 districts. Eight thousand international peacekeeping troops are ready to back them up.
Voters will choose 88 candidates to sit on a constituent assembly, which will have three months to draft and adopt a constitution. It will then become the national parliament.
The next milestone before full independence is the election of the first democratically chosen president. The constituent assembly is charged with setting the date of the presidential election. UN officials and East Timorese leaders say it is most likely to fall in March or April, after the wet season ends.
The head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello said that full independence may be declared the day the new president is announced. Xanana Gusmao, hero of the independence struggle, is seen as certain winner.
Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor, is tipped to win the the Constituent Assembly elections by a landslide. And a peaceful outcome at the ballot box would act as a strong incentive to trigger the return of tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees living in militia-controlled camps in West Timor.
De Mello also said he would announce a new transitional cabinet, the territory's second, on the same day the assembly is inaugurated. Senior Fretilin leaders, expecting a big win, will be expecting cabinet representation in the new government to match more closely the result at the ballot box. However, de Mello said he would appoint a national unity government with ministers from other parties - a promise he may find hard to keep.
REPORT ACCUSES POLICE OF CRUELTY TO PROTESTERS
The Human Rights Commission recently published a damning report accusing the police of "cruel and inhuman treatment" when breaking up a mass rally of opposition supporters during an anti-government protest last November.
In a 66-page report, the commission, set up by the Government in April, said there was severe violation of human rights at the rally, during which 116 people were arrested.
The report said police either provoked or orchestrated the chaos following the protest, which was among the biggest anti-government rallies in recent years. It said police fired tear-gas directly at the crowd, ignoring the prescribed safe distance, and in one instance sprayed directly into a truck packed with demonstrators they had arrested.
It also noted in the report that many police witnesses gave prepared testimonies and were unwilling to answer impromptu questions from the panel. According to the report, one officer had contradicted himself, while most stated the next witness would provide answers. "The next witness would come well prepared to answer the questions that had been put earlier, but would not answer any new questions," the commissioners lamented.
The report also condemned police for detaining a 17-year-old girl for five days for wearing a pro-Anwar shirt.
The commission interviewed 46 witnesses, including doctors, detainees and police. Anuar Zainal Abdul, a respected retired judge, heads the three-member panel that compiled the report.
TALKS ONLY HOPE FOR BURMA TO END PARIAH STATUS
Talks between the junta and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are moving painfully slowly but remain the pariah nation's only chance of emerging from a political impasse that has lasted a decade.
Informed sources in Rangoon say that since they began meeting last October, the two camps have not progressed past the first stage of the process which is aimed at creating a "climate of confidence and mutual respect".
The new atmosphere has seen the release of around 170 political prisoners in small groups over the past few months. Observers have been heartened by the prisoner releases, but note that only about 60 are from the "priority list" of 200 presented to the generals by United Nations special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, when he last visited in June.
The releases - a major priority for Aung San Suu Kyi who herself remains under loose house arrest restrictions - are going too slowly and have made only modest inroads into the 1,800 strong dissident population in jail.
"Aung San Suu Kyi is frustrated at the pace (of the releases). She thinks they could move a lot faster," said a western diplomat who nevertheless said the Nobel peace laureate is "still willing to pursue the dialogue".
But the moment of truth is approaching. A series of important diplomatic events ahead are expected to have a bearing on the talks.
Razali, the Malaysian diplomat who spearheaded the talks, is expected in Rangoon at the end of August, and a team from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will fly in to assess the extent of forced labour.
A European Union mission will make a visit in the autumn, and the UN's special rapporteur on human rights, the Brazilian Sergio Pinheiro, will make his second trip to Rangoon.
The junta's number-one, Senior General Than Shwe, is planning to visit his staunch ally Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and attend the next UN General Assembly in September.
The military regime has implicitly linked hints of progress in the talks with moves to lift the heavy sanctions placed on Burma. It is unlikely that the European Union or the United States will lift their sanctions any time in the near future, but the international community has indicated it is willing to make a gesture if the generals begin moving towards democracy.
Despite the considerable hurdles, no one in Rangoon expects either side to walk away from the dialogue. Aung San Suu Kyi has put her reputation on the line by sitting down with her enemies, and the junta's pariah status would become permanent if it allowed the process to collapse.
"RACISM NO MORE"
When the United Nations (UN) World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance opens in Durban, South Africa, a large ecumenical delegation sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) will be among the many thousands of non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives attending this long-awaited event.
NGO Forum activities began on 26 August with a youth forum and continue through 1 September. The governmental conference runs from 31 August to 7 September. As NGO access to the latter is restricted, a smaller ecumenical delegation will remain in Durban after 1 September to follow the conference and lobby government representatives on the conference "Declaration and Plan of Action".
According to Marilia Schüller, WCC programme executive for combating racism, the main issues being addressed by the ecumenical delegation relate to ongoing WCC work on the situations of Indigenous Peoples and Dalits, and the triple discrimination of women due to gender, race and class.
White racism as it relates to Africans and African descendants is also an issue to which the delegation is paying careful attention. Schüller notes that in preparing for the conference, a number of NGOs have been seeking recognition by WCAR that slavery, the slave trade and enslavement were crimes against humanity. According to Schüller, "Governments have been reluctant to allow these issues to be tabled for discussion because of concern about reparations and compensation". "As the WCC, we recognise the call for justice and for the redress of inequality by Africans and people of African descent in matters related to slavery," Schüller states. "The situations of racism that affect people today are connected to the issues of the past. At the same time, we don't want the WCAR to lose its focus on issues related to, for instance, the legal aspects of preventing discrimination and racism, or the question of education, history books and school curricula, which should be inclusive of the perspectives of all peoples who have contributed to the life and development of a country."
Another issue the WCC will follow is discrimination of Palestinians based on descent and national origin. Schüller notes that the WCC, through the team on International Relations, has long followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that this is the first time it is addressing the cause of the Palestinian people from a racial discrimination point of view.
|3. RESOURCES Received - top|
DAGA receives a lot of juournals, periodicals, newsletters and many other forms of printed resources from its network of Action Groups in Asia and around the world. Please click on "Resources" in the left bar for an extended listing.
|4. Urgent APPEAL - top|
AUSTRALIA - A REFUGEE CRISIS - THE DENIAL OF THE RIGHT ASYLUM
The Norwegian freighter, Tampa with 438 asylum-seekers on board, primarily people from Afghanistan, remains just outside of Australia's territorial waters off the coast of Christmas Island about 1,000 miles west of the mainland. The Australian government has refused to allow the freighter carrying these people who were rescued from a sinking Indonesian vessel late on Sunday to land in Australia, maintaining that the issue is a matter between the Norwegian and Indonesian governments.
Indonesia also insisted it would not take responsibility for the refugees. And Norway says the refugees are Australia's problem because the ship is just outside [Australian] territory and these people were picked up after a request from Australian rescue authorities.
Meanwhile, conditions on board the ship are deteriorating. All of the boat people, except pregnant women and 43 children, are on hunger strike. They are adamant that they will not go back to Indonesia. The captain of the Norwegian freighter said that he was forced to bring the asylum-seekers to Christmas Island. They have refused to go back to Indonesia and have threatened to jump overboard.
Human Rights groups are concerned about the conditions on board the ship after most of the asylum-seekers went on hunger strike. With tension rising, some of them might try to commit suicide, or the dangerous situation on the ship could lead to anarchy on the vessel. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) must intervene in this crisis immediately and the Australian government should provide as quickly as possible refugee protection.
Australian churches, refugee advocacy and human rights groups have condemned the decision to turn away the Tampa, saying it was contrary to international obligations to protect people in need. "Australia's decision to deny entry to the 438 refugees - which comes ahead of a national election this year - has raised accusations that the country is becoming a stubborn white fortress," political analyst Robert Manne said.
The Asian Human Rights Commission previously issued an urgent appeal to draw attention to the brutal treatment of asylum-seekers and the terrible conditions in detention centres in Australia. The Australian government, however, has not taken any positive actions to improve their deteriorating international reputation. Even worse, the government intends to reduce significantly the number of legal asylum-seekers it accepts.
Recently, when demonstrations erupted at the Woomera detention centre in Western Australia, anti-riot officers equipped with tear gas, batons and shields were brought in, resulting in tension between correctional service officers and asylum-seekers that still exists. There is also a report that asylum-seekers at the Curtin detention centre, even children, are on hunger strike.
Another serious issue is that a number of asylum-seekers in Australia are suffering from mental illness without receiving proper treatment. Some detainees are slashing themselves, bashing their heads against walls and overdosing on prescription drugs. The immigration minister of Australia though has insisted that all of the detainees have the same access to specialist health care as the general population in Australia and that the psychological problems afflicting detainees are the result of trauma experienced before their arrival in Australia. However, according to health workers who have treated these people and the detainees' testimony, most psychiatric problems have developed since they were detained as a result of the isolation, disempowerment and desocialisation that is inherent in lengthy periods of incarceration.
The following testimony, which was recorded by one of the detainees who has been trained as a medical doctor, can verify why a number of asylum-seekers are suffering from mental illness:
"During my time [in detention], I have become very concerned about the psychological effects caused by the long periods of detention that some asylum-seekers, including myself, have experienced. My training as a doctor has allowed me to observe these effects and to act as a point of contact for many of the other detainees to discuss their problems with me."
The experience of detention leads to a day-by-day increase in stress and tension caused by the environment of the facility where several factors - residential, administrative and judicial - converge to undermine an individual's mental state. Detention for myself and other asylum-seekers has meant the instant loss of liberty for an indeterminate period of time in a prison-like environment and involvement in a time-consuming, legalistic and confusing refugee determination process that is adversarial and confrontational. The handling and treatment of detainees is done in a manner which appears arbitrary, deliberately harsh, culturally insensitive and highly disrespectful in a context where there is a significant lack of emotional and psychological support or care."
Express your concern and urge the Australian government to resolve this crisis as quickly and as reasonably as possible by writing a letter to:
SAMPLE LETTER (use this or write your own short message)
Mr. John Howard
Dear Prime Minister,
I was shocked to hear that a Norwegian freighter with 438 asylum-seekers on board people who were rescued from a sinking Indonesian vessel late on Sunday - remains just outside of Australia's territorial waters off the coast of Christmas Island and that most of those on board are on hunger strike, demanding to land in Australia. Unfortunately, your government has refused to allow them to land in your country.
I am quite concerned about conditions on the ship after people on board went on hunger strike. As the tension becomes worse, some of them might try to commit suicide, or the dangerous situation could easily lead to anarchy on the vessel.
Regarding the recent brutal treatment of asylum-seekers in Australia, although many international and local human rights organisations have urged the Australian government to improve their policy on refugees, I am concerned because your government has refused to heed this advice and has not taken any positive action. This refugee policy will seriously harm your international reputation.
Even worse, a number of asylum-seekers in Australia are suffering from mental illness due to the terrible conditions in the detention centres, and they cannot get proper medical treatment. These are serious human rights violations. Even though they are asylum-seekers, they also have the same rights to receive medical treatment and to freedom of expression and assembly as citizens in Australia. Whether people are asylum-seekers or citizens, everyone is a human being and has human rights.
I strongly urge your government to deal with this refugee crisis as quickly as possible and to improve your policy on refugees. Appropriate measures to improve your government's refugee policy would be to abandon the current policy of mandatory detention and to place limits on detention times.
SEND FAXES AND EMAILS TO:
1. John Howard MP
2. Philip Ruddock, MP
SEND COPIES TO:
1. Prof. Dr. Ruud Lubbers
2. Committee Secretary
3. Con Sciacca, MP
4. Premier Geoff Gallop
5. Prof. Alice Tay
|5. ANNOUNCEMENT - top|
ASIA REGIONAL WORKING GROUP ON WORKING TOWARDS JUSTPEACE IN ASIA
Dates: 30 September - 4 October 2001
The above programme aims to look at Asian values and concepts of conflict transformation and peacemaking in order to discern how a regional program designed to document, help build up and strengthen indigenous forms of conflict transformation and peacemaking can most effectively be developed.
Specifically, the working group will try to work on:
For more information on this programme, please contact the DAGA office at the address below.
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):