Tag Archives: Human Rights

That Cockburn Sleeve

via Daily Prompt: Sleeve

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Contrary to the nay-sayers of the 80s the vinyl LP has hung around. My Bruce Cockburn album “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw” from 1979. The one that finally brought him to international attention, especially in the US. Cockburn, a Canadian, was quite popular in his native Canada, but until this album (don’t think I’ve used that term in a while) was only ever on the fringe elsewhere. The cover is a painting by Ojibwa artist Norval Morrisseau.

The cardboard outer was earlier called a record jacket, technically it was a protective sleeve that became an artform in itself in the late 60s. The plastic liner was an inner sleeve, an anti-scratch protection. Earlier eras used paper inners, even as jackets in some cases (especially on the old 78 rpm – a brown paper jacket).

Bruce Cockburn is a folk-rock artist (sometimes called the bearded mystic) who has been an activist for environmental and humanitarian issues through his writing and performing. He has been associated with Oxfam, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Friends of the Earth and more. He has advocated for humanitarian aid in Mozambique, Iraq, Mali, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Honduras and more. He has toured to raise funds for humanitarian crisis relief, including being a leading spokesperson for the banning of landmines, and on the subject of third world debt. He stood with the Haida people of British Columbia in their land claim struggle, and has also raised money for aid for former child soldiers. Just a sample of his commitments. He once stated that his music asks something from the listener, it invites the listener to get involved in the causes, or he asks existential questions, a more general raising of awareness of issues and questioning the listener’s stance.

Cockburn came to my attention through a friend in 79, who urged me to have a listen to this guy who wrote amazing lyrics. I did and I was hooked. But I was hooked again by his personal beliefs, his political stance, his activism. For me he embodied the meaning of integrity and commitment. I aspire to that.

Cockburn is respected by his contemporaries and younger artists, and has worked with a number of rock and folk luminaries throughout his career. He has recorded over 300 songes and made 33 albums. However, Cockburn hasn’t aimed at fame, instead he has given back to his community, and indeed to the world through his writing and activism. I would say he has invested in people and the environment.

I’d like a few more Bruce Cockburn’s around, but then, we’re here!

Paul,

pvcann.com

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Conversant With Nature?

via Daily Prompt: Conversant

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One of my favourite places, the main beach at Augusta, clean, pristine, and great for everyone. There are dune protection programs, a series of specified paths, signs about protecting the Sand Pipers who breed there, and also for the possums too. The State govt recently imposed a ban on plastic shopping bags, and the community are supportive of that goal. The problems are few here, mainly the threat of bushfire, or the one or two people who flout the accepted behaviour for using the beach, river, or the forest trails.

I may not be fully conversant with all things environmental science, but I do feel conversant with nature, for me there is a sentience, a relationship with all beings. The result of that sense of relationship is more than just awe for nature, I have a respect for and desire to engage with nature. The interdependent relationships we survive with and thrive on are finely balanced and require care and attention. Any loss is more than just regrettable, it is permanently damaging, and in some cases, cataclysmic. Plastic islands in the ocean, plastic sand (grains of plastic) in the Mediterranean, marine and terrestrial creatures bound or damaged by fabrics, salinity, air pollution, and more, are a major concern.

As we continue to battle human rights and have made sweeping changes in some areas of human rights, it seems that we are not yet conversant with the rights and needs of nature across the world. Time is short, and nature needs us to be conversant with its needs now and its future. The irony is, the UN are in dialogue over space law, especially the treatment of the Mars environ by the Mars One team, yet we haven’t really ironed out a binding agreement on earth that gives nature a voice of its own. Ecuador has already stepped up (in 2014) and shown the way: “We the people assume the authority to conduct and Ethics Tribunal for the Rights of Nature. We will investigate cases of environmental destruction, which violate the rights of nature.” (Prosecutor for the Earth at the first International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Quito, Ecuador, January 2014). A sign of hope.

Paul,

pvcann.com

 

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Seeking Asylum: Why Do They Come? (Part Three)

There are many reasons why people seek asylum, but following the previous post on the U.N. Convention (see below), the reasons enshrined in the Convention and International Law (and following Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are: political and non-political persecution (persecution over sexuality, race), religious persecution, economic persecution, war (conflict), torture, barbarous acts, oppression, tyranny.

In the majority of cases people do not take risks to leave their family, community, nation and take further risks leaving savings and worldly goods to others, take the risk of unsafe travel, risk discovery and return, in order to just enjoy a western lifestyle. The reasons for someone to actually take these risks are substantive.

Self reflection here might be helpful. When communities are faced with bushfire or earthquake there is an understanding that one might need to leave home and belongings to escape danger. It is not easy to do that even when faced with danger, and people have recounted how they have left late, or have even stayed and risked death, rather than leave and face something new, no matter how temporary. For many, leaving what they know and control and make sense of is not an easy or simple matter. There are whole sets of relationships, opportunities, cultural connections, identity, and world view, that are so much a part of each person they cannot easily be junked at the drop of a hat or on a whim.

The Story of ‘Gus’ is familiar to a certain generation. His family fled Austria after Hitler’s Anschluss. The family didn’t rush into it but eventually they fled in 1939, to arrive in Australia and safety. Gus’ father was Jewish, but this meant that even his mother wasn’t safe even though she was not Jewish. (see this and other stories at http://www.ras.unimelb.edu.au/refugees_australian_stories/). There is the story of Maimun who fled the civil war and utter chaos of Somalia for a UNHCR camp in Kenya and in 1999 came to Australia. There is the story of Pierre who escaped certain death in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and who came to Australia in 2006. The story of Ayuel from Sudan whose family fled persecution and certain death, moving around camps in Ethiopia, Uganda (where the Sundanese militias pursued the refugees) and Kenya before being brought to Australia and safety. These are just some of a small collection of stories from refugees who have settled in Australia through the UNHCR program.

My own interaction has included working with “C” from Sudan (and “J” “J2” and “J3”, “D”). “C” was sent out of his village in south Sudan by his mother as the rebels entered shooting. “C” escaped the hail of bullets and wandered for days in the bush until entering Kenya. The story of “A” and his family is amazing, he escaped academic, religious, and political persecution and death in Iraq, he gave up a career, security, parents, and money to get here. 

Najeeba from Afghanistan reflects that for her to leave her friends and family and culture was the hardest thing she has ever done, but escaping the Taliban and oppression, abuse even death was a must that finally pushed her parents to come by boat to Australia.

Three years ago Ashane escaped by boat from Sri Lanka as a young man who the Tamils or even the government were attempting to press-gang into fighting in the guerrilla war (and please note that although the war is over, the government has continued its persecution of Tamils). (see http://www.rethinkrefugees.com.au/real_stories/).

From Europe in the 1930s to Afghanistan and Syria currently, there are substantive threats to the security and safety of ordinary people. The threat of death, persecution, oppression, torture, religious persecution, and the loss of human rights in general is real.

Why do they come? Because in many cases the people would die if they did not try. They are willing to die trying rather than remain and be killed by others. I would do that too! They clearly struggle to come to the conclusion that they should leave, but leave they must if they wish to live or even have rights.

My contention is that we have fallen into the trap of tribalism whereby we harp on about border protection and population control without really looking to see that we are a global people. We are all human and we all have inalienable rights. we need to educate ourselves more on why they come and what it is like to live in the shoes of refugees and reflect on how we might react and respond through hearing those stories.

For further reflection I would recommend the book and film “Kite Runner” which tells the story of how Russian intervention brought the collapse of the Royal family and enabled the rise of the Taliban (with U.S. help) and how the Hazara are persecuted by other groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would also recommend Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut “In The Land of Blood and Honey” a romantic (sic) story set in the midst of the Serb-Bosnian war and tells of ethnic cleansing, murder, rape, concentration camps and love. “The Killing Fields” and “Schindler’s List” are also valuable in alerting us to ‘why.’

And very confronting is the 2011 short film “Unwatchable” which was commissioned by charities to shock western audiences into action over the human price of gold for mobile phones and the destruction of lives to obtain that gold. The story uses a fictional English family who are raped and murdered to tell the true story of a Congolese family who went through this (interestingly the Guardian journalist Jane Martinson whinged about its brutality saying it made her faint and others sick – but that was the point, this was real for someone who couldn’t just wander down to the video store and choose a Disney film or go to Maccas for lunch!) The official site is now closed but the video is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flePzz_CEuQ or engine search for “Unwatchable” within Youtube. It is six minutes long but a hard six minutes!

Why do people come? Because they live in fear and face death for many different reasons.

The U.N. Convention is a commitment by all countries to honour the rights of those who come to us as asylum seekers. But I have also already suggested that we shouldn’t hide behind the convention, we should respond humanely without recourse to laws. 

Paul

 

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Seeking Asylum: The U.N. Convention (or part two)

On December the 10th,1948 the United Nations publicly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the General Assembly, it was two years in the making. The draftees were one from Canada, China, Lebanon and France, and Eleanor Roosevelt was its champion for adoption by the U.N.

Article 14 was the Article stating the world’s agreement that a refugee fleeing persecution had the right to seek, and the right to be provided with refuge.

The Convention in general, and article 14 in particular, came out of the experience of World War Two. And it came at a time when the world was changing (again) and facing new anxiety over communism and nuclear war. It also came amidst demanding post-war recovery programs for many nations with many devastated structurally and economically, and some in long term debt. So it was no trivial matter to expect that Article 14 was going to be a high demand on any nation given that people movement continued, and then grew post war with such economic devastation to contend with.

In 1951 the U.N. adopted the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, thereby expanding Article 14 into a full convention in its own right. it was put into force on April 22nd, 1954. but because the framing of the convention had been done with the recent World War in mind, it was limited in scope and geographical reference. So in 1967 the U.N. passed an amendment – the 1967 Protocol (which is the only amendment to date) which gave unrestricted universal application to the 1951 Convention.

The Convention and Protocol consolidated existing positive practices with regard to refugees such as the idea of a ‘Nansen Passport’ (Fridtjof Nansen the first Commissioner for Refugees – League of Nations 1922) which was to enable freedom of movement and gave identity to refugees. 

The Convention is status and rights based, and parallel to is has been the development of the International Human Rights Law.

There are some key points that should be noted about the Convention as I see it: 

  • The Convention was framed at a time when there was great upheaval and change.
  • The Convention was framed with the knowledge that the world was economically struggling.
  • The Convention was framed with cooperation from nations with diverse needs and views and often mutual antagonisms, but yet who rose above it all to make the Convention possible.
  • Arguably, the Convention came at a time, that because it was a different era, might be considered to be ‘primitive’ in  historical terms and development. Thus, if we live in a more enlightened and developed time, surely the Convention should not only stand inviolable, but if necessary, should be strengthened in favour of refugees rather than weakened by shallow political arguments! My contention is that if we consider ourselves to have progressed then surely we will have moved on from tribalism and selfish needs to global needs and reconciliation?
  • Australia was a proud and major contributor to the framing of the Convention and an avid supporter of its proclamation and adoption.
  • Australia was a positive sponsor of the 1967 Protocol.

The Convention also provides for protection of refugees by:

  • Requiring signatory states to provide asylum subject to the Convention.
  • Requiring signatory states to protect and provide basic life needs for refugees.
  • Requiring that signatory states do not expel or send refugees back to state they came from, this is one of the main principles of International Law – non-refoulment – which safeguards refugees from being returned to places of risk and danger. 

It seems to me that Australia has entered a time of psychological and cultural redoubt. 

Since the Howard Coalition Government came to power in 1996 there has been a desire to limit and prevent asylum seekers from directly entering Australia by the Coalition and by Labor. This was thought to be achievable by processing asylum seekers off-shore at Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru. This gets around the Convention because we are only obligated to accept asylum seekers who either (a) apply from within their own country to be given asylum in Australia or, (b) can enter by whatever means of their own or (c) are part of a U.N. negotiated quota. So that off-shore processing prevents direct entry, there are few places asylum seekers can apply to in any country, and therefore the number of asylum seekers is successfully diminished. However, while this may be ‘good politics’ (sic) it is a diminishment of our international role through the U.N.,  and it is an abrogation of our responsibility to the Convention in the spirit of the law. 

Since 1996 it has been politically expedient for politicians to play with the issue of Asylum as if it were an inanimate thing, rather than the lives of real people. A number of red-herrrings have been used to support the prevention of asylum seekers, economic (there have been no real (reviewed) costings of direct acceptance of asylum seekers in the public sphere), unemployment (a fickle topic to promote as definitive in any argument), population explosion (we are almost static). I can’t help but think that beyond these arguments, which are poorly argued in Parliament and in public, we are actually dealing with the issue of race, religion and culture. Which is ironic, because those are some of the very reasons the asylum seekers come in the first place. This is clearly in contravention of the Convention and International Law, to which we are proud signatories, this, I believe, is a classic example of hypocrisy and political cowardice.

I can only conclude through my own reading and my direct experience with refugee families that we are as a nation playing to the idea of Australia as the White redoubt. Epic moral failure and an inability to explore positive humanitarian options onshore (as most other nations do).

Basically, if we cannot abide by the Convention, then perhaps we should withdraw from it, rather than pretend, at least then we could be seen for what we really are and believe – at least politically – a race conscious, religiously intolerant, culturally narrow nation(?).

And yet in spite of that, I still hold to a hope that we might yet see the light and think more globally and live a less insular life and open up fortress Australia.

Paul

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