Category Archives: Social Teachings

Australian Government Urged to Engage with Sri Lanka on Human Rights

Monday 12 November 2012

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has urged the Australian Government to accept the recommendation of a Parliamentary Committee that it seek to establish a human rights dialogue with Sri Lanka.

The Commission made a submission last year to an inquiry into human rights dialogues with China and Vietnam and its Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, appeared earlier this year before a public hearing conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, along with Pax Christi Queensland Coordinator, Fr Pan Jordan.

Mr Arndt said that the primary concern of its Submission to the inquiry was to encourage the expansion of the Australian Government’s human rights dialogues program with the Governments of China and Vietnam to include a dialogue with Sri Lanka.

“We began to express our concerns about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka at the height of the civil war in 2008 and 2009 and we continue to be concerned about what is happening there since the war ended in May 2009,” Mr Arndt said.

“The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in March this year calling for action by the Sri Lankan Government to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as there was little action to address the grave concerns about human rights violations committed during the war,” he said.

“Sri Lanka’s human rights record came under scrutiny again this month when it was examined as part of a routine four-yearly Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN Human Rights Council,” he said.

“Major human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group continue to raise their concerns about on-going extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and the lack of judicial independence and media freedom,” he said.

“On the same day as the UN review of Sri Lanka’s human rights record commenced, the Sri Lankan Government introduced legislation into the Parliament to impeach the country’s Chief Justice,” he said.

Mr Arndt said that recent reports from Church bodies such as the Justice and Peace Commission in the Diocese of Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka and discussions he has had with senior Church officials in Sri Lanka suggest that there has been no improvement particularly for the Tamil people in their homelands since the war ended,” he said.

“The military is still present in large numbers in the north and the east and they are a highly intimidating presence,” he said.

“One Church leader I spoke to said that he was safe as long as he did not speak out about the poor treatment of his people by the military and the Government,” Mr Arndt said.

“He clearly have good reason to fear reprisals if he complains or criticises the Government,” he said.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Manna has been threatened repeatedly by Government Ministers for speaking out about human rights concerns in his diocese and a judge who complained recently about executive interference in the courts was assaulted,” he said.

“We have worked with other organisations in the local Sri Lanka Justice Forum to pressure the Government to implement the recommendation to seek a human rights dialogue with Sri Lanka,” he said.

“Australia cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in a neighbouring country because we want their cooperation to stem the flow of asylum seekers,” he said.

“Indeed, one of the reasons why Sri Lankans are fleeing the country is that they continue to face serious repression and human rights abuses,” he said.

“We are grateful to local MPs and Senators who have taken our concerns to the Government and will continue to work with them to bring about improvements in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka,” he added.

For further information and comment, please contact Peter Arndt (Executive Officer, Catholic Justice & Peace Commission) on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

This statement is issued by the Commission under the provisions of its mandate which enable it to speak in its own right and has been authorised by the Commission’s Executive.

Respect and Understanding Needed on Tent Embassy


Thursday 28 June 2012

Aboriginal Tent Embassy Brisbane

Aboriginal Tent Embassy Brisbane

The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane, along with its Aboriginal partners and advisors, welcomes the recent dropping of police charges against a number of people who came to support local Aboriginal people and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in May.

 It is our hope that charges against others arrested by police will also be dropped.

We do not want to see the ugly confrontation between police, the Brisbane City Council, Aboriginal people and their supporters, which occurred on 16 May at Musgrave Park, repeated.

The sight of over 200 police officers surrounding Aboriginal people at the Tent Embassy at Musgrave Park was a sorry reminder to Aboriginal people of the troubled and difficult relations they have experienced with the police in this State over many years.

The indignity of being evicted by force by police at the request of Council authorities from land with which they have a long and deep connection was also a sorry reminder of their dispossession and all its negative consequences.

We welcome the conciliatory and respectful approaches and dialogue which have taken place between the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Brisbane City Council officers and elders and representatives of the local Aboriginal communities since the confrontation.  It is hoped that this constructive approach will achieve positive outcomes for both the first peoples of this land and for the municipal authorities.

We implore both the State Government and the Queensland Police to follow the Council’s lead so that respectful and productive relationships can be established and cooperative partnerships can be formed to address the problems that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face across Queensland.

As we approachAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday on 1 July and NAIDOC Week (July 1 – 8), we acknowledge efforts by Church agencies, parishes and schools to develop relationships with local Aboriginal people.  We encourage them to maintain and increase such efforts.

In particular, we encourage Catholics and people in the wider community to learn more about the history of Aboriginal peoples’ connection with Musgrave Park in South Brisbane and with other significant sites around south-east Queensland.

We also urge Catholics to learn more about the significance of the first Aboriginal Tent Embassy which was established in Canberra forty years ago and to walk with them on their on-going struggle for justice.

Finally, we wish to acknowledge the significant contribution of Aboriginal church workers and Aboriginal Christians who have worked tirelessly to support their sisters and brothers in the Tent Embassy in Musgrave Park since its establishment and for their long standing efforts to ensure that their people are afforded dignity in many difficult situations over many years.  These humble and faithful people are extraordinary witnesses to God’s abundant mercy and love.  May God continue to bless their work and inspire others to join them in their efforts to build a civilisation of love in Jesus’ name.

For further information and comment, please contact Peter Arndt (Catholic Justice & Peace Commission) on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476 or Ravina Waldren (Murri Ministry) on (07) 3891 5911 or 0408 707 101.

 This statement is issued by the Commission under the provisions of its mandate which enable it to speak in its own right and has been authorised by the Commission’s Executive and its Aboriginal advisors before release. 

Commission to Screen Queensland Documentary on World Environment Day


Friday 1 June 2012

 

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission will host a World Environment Day screening of a documentary film depicting the struggle of Central Queensland communities against coal and gas extraction in their region.

Directed by US-based filmmaker Michael O’Connell, the film, Bimblebox, follows the story of Paola Cassoni, a resident of Alpha, Queensland, and co-owner of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge.

Bimblebox Nature Refuge is an 8000 ha property north of Alpha and directly in the path of the proposed ‘China First’ coal mine, an operation that, if given the go ahead, will be the world’s largest coal mine.

The documentary features interviews with leading academics, scientists, and former miners, as well as members of the communities impacted by mining. , It builds a picture of the broader implications of Australia’s mining boom, while focussing on one woman’s fight to protect the land she loves.

“This documentary was born out of the necessity” Ms Cassoni said, “to let the broader public know that our bush, our communities, our farms and our waters are going through a radical transformation.”

“It shows the daily battles and frustrations of ordinary people in dealing with both mining corporations and indifferent Governments,” she said.

It’s more than a hint that we need a new direction in energy consumption both at home and globally,” she added.

Mr O’Connell is an experienced environmental documentary film maker, having previously made Mountain Top Removal, a documentary which focussed on the issue of coal mining in the US region of Appalachia and received numerous awards including the ‘Reel Current’ award, presented by Al Gore, at the Nashville Film Festival.

“After making my film Mountain Top Removal I wanted to look at the global issue of mining and also explore the alternatives to fossil fuels.  Australia was a perfect place to do that,” Mr O’Connell said.

The Justice and Peace Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the Commission was keen to promote the broadest possible discussion of the issues surrounding coal mining and gas extraction in Queensland.

“This film gives us the chance to hear the views and feelings of people living in the central west of Queensland whose lives and lands will be directly affected by very large mining developments,” Mr Arndt said.

“Christians have a responsibility to care for the earth and to defend the human dignity of all people now and in the future,” he said.

“It is not only the very powerful voices of Government Ministers and mining company executives which must be heard, but also those of graziers, workers and families living in areas affected by the decisions and actions of government and business,” he said.

Bimblebox will screen at the Aspinall Centre, St Bernard’s Parish, Klumpp Road, Upper Mt Gravatt, at 7 p.m. on World Environment Day, Tuesday 5 June.

A panel of speakers will discuss the film after its screening and light refreshments will be served.

Donations to help cover costs will be gratefully accepted.  Bookings to help with catering may be made by e-mailing em.fl@bne.catholic.net.au or by phoning Sandi on 3336 9174.

Government Must Challenge Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Record in Talks


Friday 4 May 2012

 

The Australian Government must raise the issue of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka in talks currently taking place between the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, and the Sri Lankan Government, according to Executive Officer of Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Peter Arndt.

The Immigration Minister has spent the last three days in Sri Lanka in order to discuss on-going cooperation to counter people smuggling.

Mr Arndt said that Mr Bowen should not turn a blind eye in his discussions to reports of on-going abuses of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority by the military.

“We are very concerned about reports that some Tamil asylum seekers whose claims for protection have failed were deported to Sri Lanka and subsequently subjected to rape, beatings and torture,” Mr Arndt said.

“A Human Rights Watch investigation shows at least eight Tamil asylum seekers were deported to Sri Lanka by the British Government and were abused by the Sri Lankan military in various ways,” he said.

“The Sri Lankan Government has thumbed its nose at the international community with its refusal to implement recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission,” he said.

“The UN Human Rights Council has called on the Sri Lankan Government to implement the Commission’s recommendations to deal with the injustices and abuses committed during Sri Lanka’s brutal and long-running civil war, but theSri Lankan Government refuses to do the right thing,” he said.

“There is still a massive military presence in the traditional homelands of the Tamil minority in the north and east and there are still reports of military violence and abuses of the Tamil people in the area,” he said.

“The Australian Government knows the Sri Lankan Government has questions to answer about human rights abuses committed during the civil war and that significant human rights concerns still exist in Sri Lanka,” he said.

“Australia cannot ignore these matters when it is talking to the Sri Lankan Government about stopping more Tamils coming to Australia and seeking asylum,” he said.

“Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka will stop fleeing their country when they can live in their own lands free from fear and oppression,” he said.

“The Sri Lankan Government will not get the message about human rights abuses if Australia keeps dealing with them as if it is business as usual,” he said.

“Australia cannot send Tamils back to Sri Lanka if it knows there is a strong possibility that they will be subjected to violence,” he said.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

 NB  This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right.  The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.

Commission Calls for Carr to Change Tack on West Papua


Tuesday 13 March 2012

 

West Papua Solidarity Group Brisbane.

West Papua Solidarity Group Brisbane.

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has called on the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, to change the direction of Australia’s approach to conflict in the Indonesian provinces of West Papua.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the militarisation of West Papua had led to great problems in the region which is situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea.

“The indigenous Melanesian people of West Papua have never accepted the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s,” Mr Arndt said.

“While there has been a small armed independence group in West Papua, nonviolent, peaceful groups challenging Indonesian rule and the abuses of security forces have grown in recent years,” he said.

“Despite their commitment to peaceful action, Indonesian security forces respond with brutal tactics to keep a lid on their activities,” he said.

“The Indonesian Minister for Law and Human Rights recently said there were no political prisoners in Indonesia, but many Papuans are in prison for peaceful political actions like raising the Papuan flag,” he said.

“There are five Papuan leaders currently on trial for treason after they made a declaration of independence at a large Papuan gathering last October,” he said.

“The brutal attack on that gathering of unarmed, peaceful people is unfortunately all too common in West Papua,” he said.

“We hope that the appointment of Mr Carr as Foreign Affairs Minister will give our country a chance to take a stronger stand on military brutality and intimidation in the region,” he said.

“We also hope Mr Carr can encourage the Indonesian Government to sit down with all political groups in West Papua and find a way to end a conflict which has lasted fifty years,” he said.

“Australia cannot continue to hope this problem will go away,” he said.

“Ordinary citizens, human rights defenders and peaceful political activists have been subjected to many human rights violations and Australia must do its part to help end this concerning situation,” he said.

“There needs to be a new way found to end the violence and bring about peace in West Papua,” he said.

“This problem on our doorstep will continue to simmer and worsen unless we can encourage Indonesia to take Papuan hopes and concerns seriously,” he said.

The Commission helps to facilitate a local solidarity group, the West Papua Solidarity Group Brisbane.  On this Friday 16 March at Anzac Square, 4.30 – 5.30 p.m., the Group will hold a public demonstration in support of the five Papuans on trial and of human rights in West Papua.

The group will also send a message of support to the five Papuans before the end of this week when, it is believed, their trial will conclude.  It is currently collecting signatures from supporters before sending the message.

Mr Arndt said the Commission will continue to support the group’s efforts to lobby the Australian Government on human rights in West Papua.