Australia

Yemen: rights group accuses UAE of war crimes

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR-UK) on Nov. 28 called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially concerning the recruiting of foreign nationals to serve in an army of mercenaries. AOHR-UK sent letters to the governments of Australia, Chile, El Salvador, Colombia and Panama, all countries where the recruitment has taken place, asking that they "withdraw their citizens from these dangerous formations and take measures against the UAE in accordance with the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries of 1989." (See text of Convention.)

Peru and Australia sign free trade pact

Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact Nov. 10 that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Danang, Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) announced the deal on Twitter, boasting that the agreement will boost employment and attract investment. Speaking at the APEC summit, PPK reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism.

Indigenous resistance halts Bougainville mine

The push to re-open a controversial copper mine on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville was halted after indigenous residents blocked roads to prevent officials from going to the mine site and signing new agreements with landowners. The Panguna mine was abandoned by Australian-owned Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) in 1989 after disaffection from landowners escalated to an armed uprising and a push for independence from Papua New Guinea. The president and cabinet of the Autonomous Bougainville Government had planned to go to the Panguna site to sign an agreement that would allow BCL to resume work at the mine. But so-called "hardline" opponents, led by angry women, blocked the road and demanded the government and the company abandon their plans. (Radio Australia, June 17)

Australia using Nauru as 'open-air prison'

Australia is using the island of Nauru as an "open-air prison," putting refugees and asylum seekers through an abusive processing system as a means to prevent immigration, according to a report (PDF) released by Amnesty International Oct. 17. The report charges that Australia has ignored the 1951 Refugee Convention (PDF) by subjecting asylum seekers and refugees to "egregious abuses," essentially trapping them on the remote island. The report includes dozens of interviews with refugees, documenting claims of mental health issues, suicide attempts and attacks at the hands of Nauru citizens. It describes inadequate and often "deeply humiliating and traumatizing" medical treatment, and abuses carried out against children, including physical abuse from staff contracted by Australia, and the denial of their right to education. The report calls upon the Australian government to ensure the safety and well-being of refugees, and increase access to existing migration programs.

Australia to close Manus Island detention center

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced Aug. 17 that the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea plan to close the controversial Manus Island detention center. Since 2012 Australia has sent asylum seekers to offshore detention centers where they have been subjected to inhumane treatment. Human rights groups have brought light to the physical and sexual abuse faced by these individuals, which has created pressure for reform. Although there has been an agreement to close the center, Australia continues to state it will refuse to accept the detainees held there. There is no time frame on the process, which has led to skepticism.

International direct action against fossil fuel

Police arrested 65 protesters who briefly shut down the port at Newcastle, NSW, Australia's biggest coal export terminal, on May 8. Hundreds of kayaks and boats blocked the entrance to Newcastle harbor to stop coal ships, while another group blocked rail lines on the city's northwest. Australia has seen numerous anti-mining direct action campaigns in recent years, but this was part of a coordinated global direct action campaign against fossil fuels. Actions are taking place in at least 12 countries under the Break Free From Fossil Fuels campaign. A similar flotilla action is planned for the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal in Vancouver, BC. In Albany, NY, people from across the Northeast gathered May 14 to block oil trains along the banks of the Hudson River, while Denver saw a protest march against fracking in Colorado. Actions are also planned for Quito to protest the opening of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park to oil drilling. (The Guardian, May 8; Burnaby Now, 24 Hours, BC, May 4; BFFF)

Papua New Guinea rules 'Australia's Gitmo' illegal

The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled April 26 that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea's constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said  that the ruling, "does not alter Australia's border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia." There are currently about 850 detainees on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.

ISIS in Sydney?

As readers are doubtless aware, an unknown militant is currently holding a number of hostages at a Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney, and forcing them to display a jihadist flag in the store's window. There is much online controversy about exactly which faction's flag it is. The Sydney Morning Herald identifies it as the banner of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and contrasts it with those flown by ISIS and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The report says Somalia's Shabab is also now flying the ISIS flag, which may mark another affiliate for the "Islamic State"—which would make four by our count. We have noted that protesters are on trial in Lebanon for having burned the ISIS flag, ostensibly because it includes the Arabic text of the Shahada or declaration of Muslim faith. These are all variations on the "Tawhid flag" that has been adopted by Islamists throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Given the franchise model of the jihadist networks, it really doesn't make that much difference which faction the Sydney militant is associated with, or if he is just a freelancer.

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