Currently New Zealand abides by the UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Al Qaida and the Taliban, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
The range of sanctions include:
- asset freezes in which we “prohibit dealings in assets, money, or securities of, or derived from property of, [these countries], and prohibit sending funds to” these countries;
- travel bans to prevent the entry into or transit through their territories;
- arms embargo to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer of arms of all types, spare parts, and technical advice, assistance, or training related to military activities.
The human rights abuses in these countries are legion. The horrors of war, unimaginable violence including torture and rape as a weapon, the restrictions on people in all areas of their lives is shocking. This is why we impose sanctions. If you look at the reasoning under the various resolutions, patterns of state behaviour emerge that include (but by no means confined to):
- In North Korea and the Central African Republic, there are a series of secretive camps and detention centres where the unfortunate inmates suffer abuse, violence, starvation and death. The inmates are living in terribly harsh and life threatening environments;
- Prolonged pre-trail detention is common in Central African Republic, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and others; languishing in remand prisons, people have little hope in the corrupt justice systems;
- Restrictions on freedom of speech in the Central African Republic and Iran mean people fear speaking out on issues of public concern;
- societal discrimination against ethnic minorities is notable in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran;
- Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon are deprived of basic human rights within the country, leaving with them with little hope for future.
Sanctions, whilst their impact is controversial as some argue they hurt the citizenship rather than the powerful responsible for the abuses, are one of the few tools we have as an international community outside of war to influence other countries to change their behaviour and approach. The sanctions imposed on South Africa in the 1980s were a successful intervention that contributed to the change in the political systems of their country. Sanctions against Iran have brought them to the bargaining table and the current deal done around their nuclear ambitions is good for the region and good for the world. Sanctions can encourage change.
When we impose sanctions as a country, we are making a statement about what we think is acceptable in the world and about the standard of human rights we expect. There are a whole lot of problems in regards imperialism and the eurocentrism of human rights, but they express some important values that, if pursued, would make this a better world. Regrettably, our neighbours, our close friends, our cousins across the ditch in Australia are being led by a government that has decided those values don’t apply to them and that people who aren’t white don’t have the same rights as others.
The Australian government is running a series of secretive camps and detention centres where the unfortunate inmates suffer abuse, violence, starvation and death. The inmates are living in terribly harsh and life threatening environments.
The Australian-funded and sanctioned camps for asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are violation of the human rights of those people under a variety of covenants and agreements that Australia has both signed and ratified. Report after report now shows that in those camps: women and children are subject to sexual harassment, violence and rape; fasting protestors have been tortured with forced feeding regimes; violence against refugees is regular and sanctioned; facilities are poorly designed and under-developed for the environment and population; deaths have occurred at the hands of the guards. These facilities are concentration camps:non-combatant
The Australian government has imposed restrictions on freedom of speech which mean people fear speaking out on issues of public concern.
The Border Force Act 2015 “contains strict secrecy provisions that cover all government contractors, including doctors, even outside of Australia” that are aimed at muzzling workers from camps of asylum seekers. People who speak out are at risk of up to two years in prison. The whistleblower laws in Australia do not protect these people for a whole variety of reasons, even if they are reporting on incidences of child abuse.
On another issue, the Australia judiciary and police have a track record of prolonged pre-trail detention for First Nations Australians followed by little hope in a racist justice system.
Despite being three percent of the population, First Nations Australians make up 28 percent of the prison population. Forty eight percent of incarcerated juveniles are First Nations Australians. First Nations Australians are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned for the same offence than other Australians. That’s 20 times in Western Australia. One study showed 99 First Nations Australians’ suicides in custody over a nine year period.
The Australian government and state governments are deliberately discriminating against ethnic minorities.
There are 150 First Nations Australian communities that the Western Australian government is preparing to close because they are “unviable”. The threat of closures arose in 2014, when the Australian federal government said it could no longer afford to maintain infrastructure in remote communities, and handed responsibility to the states. The Western Australian government said it was unwilling to cover basic utility costs and many communities would be closed. Tony Abbott piped up with his notorious “lifestyle choices” comment. This is a policy aimed at indigenous people, a cynical land grab for mining companies if past conduct is anything to go by.
Finally, the Australian government is now looking at stripping citizens of citizenship, a human rights abuse all of its own.
Under the proposed law, Australians will be automatically stripped of their Australian citizenship if they enter no-go zones. The Sydney Morning Herald explained that “this would occur even if the person has entered that area for innocent purposes, such as to do business, visit friends or undertake a religious pilgrimage. The same result would follow for a person convicted of damaging Commonwealth property or possessing a ‘thing’, such as a book or downloaded file from the Internet, that is in some way connected with terrorism.” Suddenly the power of the state somehow trumps the rights of the citizen, and undesirables become someone else’s problem to integrate and resolve.
We can but hope that the Australian government is not representative of the Australian people, but a rogue, power-mad collection of small-minded, hateful (predominantly) men. Nevertheless, given New Zealand’s current seat on the Security Council, our proud support for the development of the Declaration of Human Rights, and our readiness to respond to human rights abuses throughout the world with assets freezes, arms embargo and travel bans, it is now our time to act.
We need to table a resolution at the Security Council for an assets freeze and travel ban on Australia as a package of sanctions that will bring them to the bargaining table where we can, as an international community, negotiate Australia returning to the fold of a fair and reasonable nation state that upholds human rights for all people seeking to be part of its society.
[header photo is from the Refugee Action Coalition and shows Refugees on Nauru protesting on 7 April 2015 at Anibare camp against offshore processing in defiance of a new law that requires protesters to give seven days notice of any protest and gives the police commissioner sole power to allow a protest, or not.]