International Issues


MEDIA RELEASE         20th May 2011   ‘concerned Australians’

 UN Human Rights High Commissioner Receives Letter signed by Thousands of Australians

Today Aboriginal Elders in Darwin will present to the UN Human Rights Commissioner a letter signed by almost six and a half thousand Australians from across the country, calling for her support in restoring the rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

 This follows repeated calls from visiting UN Special Rapporteurs, the World Council of Churches and last August, from her own Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination inGeneva.

Only a few months ago a statement was released by 33 eminent Australians calling for an end to the discriminatory Intervention with a repeal of discriminatory legislation.

Signatures from NT residents have come from some thirty-four different centres including those from future growth centres (hub towns) and from smaller remote homelands. They include: Marngarr, Ramingining, Bolkdjam Outstation, Oenpelli, Ngukurr,BickertonIsland, Utopia, Ampilatwatcha, Daguragu, Djarrakpi, Gan Gan,CrokerIsland, Wadeye, Barrika, Raymanggir, Dhamitaka, Gapuwiak, Mirrngatja, Maparu, Dondyji, Santa Theresa, Lajamanu,ElchoIsland,TiwiIsland, Yuendumu, Maningrida, Milingimbi, Galiwin’ku, Yirrkala,Darwin,Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Nhulunbuy.

Today the Commissioner, at the start of her Australian visit, will hear directly from Aboriginal people living in the NT prescribed communities of the impact they experience on a daily basis, living under the discriminatory policies of the Intervention.

Aboriginal people have travelled long distances across theNorthern Territoryto take the opportunity to ask for the Commissioner’s support in calling for the restoration of their rights. If our government were as interested as the Commissioner in hearing the views of Aboriginal people, it is quite likely they would make the trip all over again.

But does the Government care? Are governments able to listen in this age of spin? The real support to Aboriginal people by Government involves actually listening so that together they will be able to genuinely search for a way forward.

The above statements can be found at

August 2009, Professor James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous people

December 2009, Mr Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard available at

August 2010, The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of August 2010 concluding Observation available at

 2010 The WCC Living Letters report is available at

2011 WCC statement is available at

 Feb 2011 Elders Statement, available at

 The 33 Eminent Australians Statement, available at

 Lindsay Murdoch, The Age, Darwin May 23, 2011

THE federal indigenous intervention will come under international scrutiny this week, with a top United Nations official set to criticise a lack of rights for Aboriginal people. Northern Territory Aboriginal leaders have told UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that things have got worse under the intervention imposed by the Howard government in 2007.

”There is greater discrimination against them,” Ms Pillay said they told her. ”Firstly, they said there’s been an intervention and it started off badly without them being consulted, and secondly, there is insufficient respect for their land,” she said.

Ms Pillay said the Aborigines told her they were under pressure from the Gillard government to sign 99-year leases over their land. ”They see that as a land grab,” she said. Ms Pillay told journalists she would reveal her views about the intervention at a news conference in Canberra on Wednesday, at the end of a six-day Australian visit. But the intervention has already been criticised by several UN agencies, including the UN Committee on the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.

 The committee says the intervention continues to discriminate on the basis of race, and reduces people’s rights to land, property, social security, adequate housing, cultural development, work and legal remedies.

The intervention has also been criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights. In Darwin, Ms Pillay was handed a petition signed by 6500 Australians calling for her support in restoring the rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. The petition, organised by a Melbourne-based group called Concerned Australians, calls for the Gillard government to end the intervention, which it says is discriminatory against Aborigines. Ms Pillay also visited the Yarrabah Aboriginal Community in far-north Queensland.

The contravention of the Racial Discrimination Act under the intervention has been a sensitive issue for federal Labor. The government passed legislation last year to reinstate the act after compulsory income management of welfare payments was broadened from 73 remote NT communities targeted under the intervention, to all welfare recipients in the NT. Ms Pillay, a former High Court judge in South Africa, is due to meet Prime Minister Julia Gillard and ministers dealing with indigenous issues this week. She has also signalled she is investigating Australia’s mandatory detention of asylum seekers, especially children.

Read more:

From the article below: “Announcing the settlement Friday morning, attorneys for the abuse victims — nearly all Native Americans and Alaskan Natives abused at the mission schools in Washington and around the Northwest — described the settlement as the largest in U.S. history.”







Levi Pulkkinen /

Clarita Vargas, a Colville Tribe member and Yakima resident abused at an Omak boarding school, and attorney Blaine Tamaki speak to reporters Friday after announcing an $166 million settlement with the Northwest division of the Catholic Jesuit order. Pending court approval, the settlement will be paid to about 470 people abused as children at boarding schools operated by the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, including the Omak school where Vargas was victimized.


A Catholic order has agreed to pay $166 million to nearly 500 survivors of sexual abuse at Jesuit-run reservation boarding schools.

Announcing the settlement Friday morning, attorneys for the abuse victims — nearly all Native Americans and Alaskan Natives abused at the mission schools in Washington and around the Northwest — described the settlement as the largest in U.S. history.

In a statement, the attorneys said the Society of Jesus’ Oregon Province and its insurer agreed to make the payment and issue a written apology to the victims, who were sexually and psychologically abused from the 1940s through the 1990s.

The abuse was alleged to have taken place at Jesuit operated mission schools and boarding schools on Indian reservations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Montana. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have said the suits forced the order to apply file for bankruptcy protection.

“This settlement recognizes that the Jesuits betrayed the trust of hundreds of young children in their care, and inflicted terrible atrocities upon them. These religious figures should have been responsible for protecting children, but instead raped and molested them,” said Blaine Tamaki, a Yakima attorney whose firm represented about a third of the non-Alaskan plaintiffs in a suit filed in 2009.

“Although the abuse they suffered was horrific, my clients are hopeful that, with the Jesuits’ acknowledgement of wrongdoing, changes will be made so that that this type of abuse can be prevented in the future,” Tamaki continued in a statement. “In other words, the church needs to correct flaws that have allowed this to happen.”

Plaintiff Katherine Mendez, a Yakama tribal member abused as a child at St. Mary’s Mission boarding school in Omak, said she was relieved on hearing of the settlement, according to the statement issued by Tamaki. Mendez was 11 when she was sent to St. Mary’s Mission by a state foster worker, and was abused during the year that followed.

“I kept the sexual molestation hidden in the dark, in my soul, for years and years,” Mendez said in the statement. “Finally, when I came forward and saw that others did too, it was as if the blanket that had hidden our secret was pulled off and we could move into the light again.”

The cases were filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oregon and elsewhere. A final order is expected in coming weeks.

Visit‘s home page for more Seattle news.

[ENG] Africa: Declaration Of Indigenous Peoples At The Second International Forum Of Indigenous Peoples Of Central Africa (FIPAC 2) Impfondo, 15 to 18 March 2011 We, Indigenous Peoples of Central Africa, specifically the Republic of Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Republic Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and Chad welcome the participants of the 2nd International Forum of Indigenous Peoples Central Africa, and thank the Government of the Republic of Congo and development partners who have contributed to the maintenance and success of this event.

This second edition of FIPAC is an opportunity for us to learn from experiences of implementing the recommendations of the first edition, and to raise the attention of policymakers, partners, and non-Indigenous communities to changes in the institutional, economic, political and global environmental context and to formulate again to their attention a number of expectations and suggestions for the sustainable management of natural resources and Central African forests and the promotion of rights and culture of indigenous peoples.

Preparatory meetings for our participation in FIPAC 2 gave us the opportunity to assess progress and to identify bottlenecks, constraints and challenges that continue to influence our lives.

1. Concerning the classification of Indigenous Peoples, we observe that generally, we are still very often described by fuzzy concepts and placed in very ambiguous categories:

a. We do not consider ourselves necessarily as a social minority, because in many regions and in many circumstances, we are demographically the majority;

b. Similarly, although we are quite vulnerable due to our cultural, economic and political situation, we consider that it is wrong to classify us at the same level of vulnerability as other vulnerable groups of society. Ours is specific and requires a special treatment;

c. The other aspect is the classification of certain indigenous members in large social groups that have components which have nothing to do with the IP. This is the case of the Mbororo in Cameroon, CAR and Chad, who are classified as large category PEUL. This classification is an injury to the Mbororo community which is very fragile, vulnerable and more a minority compared to the Peul who are themselves a majority, politically installed in positions with responsibilities at all levels, both intellectually and economically stronger than Mbororos.

d. Policies and official statements of the Government of Rwanda still constitute a real constraint on free expression and promotion of indigenous identity in this country. We call the Government of Rwanda, COMIFAC and partners to take into account the special situation of the PA in the Great Lakes countries and to grant them a special status to enable them to join together and express themselves freely as IP;

2. Given the low participation of indigenous peoples in national and international decision making, we ask States, projects and programs to develop various levels of effective mechanisms to ensure the presence and active participation of IP downstream and upstream decision-making bodies on issues and concerns affecting them. It would be useful to apply, at least for a while, a policy of affirmative action, which will ensure the integration of representatives of IP in various decision-making and concerted national and subregional concerntation bodies.

3. The IP consider FIPAC and REPALEAC as the most able bodies to make their voices heard, to promote a dialogue with others and to coordinate the actions and contributions of Indigenous Peoples in Central Africa in order to join the indigenous world movement. We invite COMIFAC and partners to address seriously and on a voluntary and generous manner, on the issue of the institutionalization of FIPAC and the restructuration and organisational strengthening of REPALEAC. It would be a mistake to let those two bodies die. However, we emphasize the need for this institutionalization and restructuration process to be participatory and not imposed by policy makers or partners.

a. The institutionalization of FIPAC must first evaluate the benefits and constraints on the IP and consider the role of an institutionalized FIPAC taking into account the role and responsibilities already devolved at REPALEAC;

b. We promote the institutionalization of FIPAC with an REPALEAC playing a central role in it. We strongly suggest that the question of how the institutionalized FIPAC will function and how the IP will be represented within its leadership should be discussed and decided on a participatory basis with all national networks of REPALEAC.

4. Regarding the land issue, we continue to face the denial of our rights. We are aware of the changing contexts and know that we can not live the full dimension of our culture any more. There is a need to adapt. But this adaptation should be gradual and accompanied, to avoid the disappearance of our cultures and the extinction of our peoples. The issue of land rights is fundamental to this process of adaptation and promotion of our culture; a. The issue of land rights of IP goes beyond the simple issue of land ownership. Land ownership is essential for our ties to the land, considering the forced settlement we face and to secure our space in a context of settlement. However, land ownership is only one element in the IP’s issue of land rights. Our rights include, in addition to the issue of land:

i. The rights to use transversal spaces to meet our cultural and economic needs;

ii. The rights to cross-border movements and through the entire national territories;

iii. The rights to draw on special resources for cultural and religious needs;

iv. Etc. 5. With regard to the emerging issues and challenges such as climate change and the REDD mechanism, we suggest that an emphasis should be placed on IP to adapt to Climate Change because there is a risk that REDD constitute once more a burden for the IP, and a factor of land theft by the politico-economic interests, whose impacts on the IP are likely to be disastrous. We will never accept REDD and other mitigation policies and adaptation that ignore the basic rights of the IP.

In conclusion, we note that, despite efforts and the progress already achieved, the status of IP continues to be that of marginalized and excluded peoples, which are unfairly treated and shamelessly exploited by our neighbors, traders and even development and conservation partners.

Considering all this, we ask the decision makers and partners to accompany us in our process of integration into the global society, in order to be considered equally to the other citizens.

Thank you. Made Imfondo, March 15, 2011

The participants

This past Sunday John Cleary did a very good show on the Northern Territory Intervention. He talked to Malcolm Fraser, Sir Alistair Nicholson, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin’ku, Djapirri Mununggirritj from Nhulunbuy and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM from Utopia. He was joined by Graeme Mundine and Jeff McMullen. If you missed the show you can listen to it from the website either by podcast, MP3 or windows media.

 From the ABC website.

This week Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered the third Prime Ministerial Speech on ‘Closing the Gap’ on indigenous disadvantage. The tone was one of cautious optimism, but for many, government policy continues to be dominated by the shadow of the intervention, a return to paternalism that threatens the very foundations of indigenous recovery

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of our national apology to indigenous Australians, and this week the Gillard government presented the 3rd closing the gap report. Both events occur in the shadow of the continuing Intervention strategy implemented under the Howard government and continued by Labor. A Conversation with the Elders, brought together from both European and Indigenous Australia, to hear Elders from the Northern Territory and Central Australia, reflect on how government policies, particularly the intervention are affecting their communities. Tonight we pick up the threads of that conversation to share it with you and perhaps get some of your observations. In a few moments we will be hearing from both aboriginal and European Australian elders, including Rev Djiniyini Gondarra, Malcolm Fraser and Sir Alastair Nicholson.

In studio are Jeff McMullen, a distinguished former foreign correspondent and reporter for both 4 Corners and 60 minutes, who for many years has been actively engaged with indigenous issues, and acted as the facilitator at the recent Conversation with the Elders. Also in the studio we welcome back Graeme Mundine, who has recently taken up a role as indigenous advisor to the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

Elders from several NT Aboriginal communities have called on the Government to end the “nightmare” that is the Intervention and asked all Australians to “walk with us in true equality”.

The Northern Territory Intervention and the Racial Discrimination Act

December 2010

 The Board of Management of Social Policy Connections endorsed the following statement on the 4th December concerning the Racial Discrimination Act on behalf of its members, following an address by the Hon. Alastair Nicholson.


“The Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), as it was amended in the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination) Act 2010, will come into effect on 31st December 2010. However, Social Policy Connections (SPC) considers this legislation to be incomplete and that such vital aspects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) cannot be relegated to “special measures”. The Act, as it stands, will not provide protection against racial discrimination. Amendments to this legislation “reinstating” the RDA in its original determination are urgently needed.

 Social Policy Connections calls upon the Federal government to withdraw the present discriminatory legislation and unconditionally to “reinstate” the RDA. We also call on the government to ensure that any future welfare reform is non-discriminatory and does not impinge on the rights of any recipient. Further, we ask that the NTER measures be reviewed to ensure that they fully comply with the RDA, together with our obligations under human rights standards, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

 We note that SPC is one of many organisations to take this stand, including: the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Council of Churches in Australia, the Uniting Church of Australia, Franciscans International (General Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC), Edmund Rice International, Foundation for Marist Solidarity International, and the Good Shepherd Mission & Justice Unit.

We stand in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, and commit ourselves to take action to support their human rights and their rights as Australian citizens.

 Peter Whiting

SPC President, on behalf of SPC members and Board of Management

 Social Policy Connections is an independent, ecumenical, social justice advocacy group. It is a non-profit organisation, motivated and informed by Christian social teaching. SPC aims to expand awareness of social justice issues in Australia, and to influence public policy for the benefit of all people, especially the most disadvantaged.

As we celebrate Human Rights day in 2010 we are reminded of the many individuals who suffer human rights abuses around the world. We also celebrate the many people who shine a light on these abuses and whose efforts to stand up for the rights of others are often unrecognised.

NATSIEC pays particular respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their continuing struggles against oppression and attacks on culture, lands and peoples.

In 2010, Australia is a country that has much to be proud of, but we can not shy away from examining our shadow, those areas where we are failing to protect our citizens from abuse. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are having their rights violated on a daily basis. Whether it is through racism or through discriminatory public policies the rights of many Indigenous Australians are often compromised.

Although Australia does not have a Bill of Rights we are signatories to a number of International Human Rights instruments which should guide us to protect the rights of those most vulnerable. In particular, Australia now supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration). We now need to ensure that the principles of the Declaration are brought into Australian law and policy. No legislation that affects the Indigenous peoples of this country should be enacted unless it has been subjected to scrutiny through the lens of the Declaration.

One policy area that urgently needs to be scrutinized using the Declaration framework is the Northern Territory (NT) Intervention.  

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has said the Intervention continues to discriminate on the basis of race. During a recent visit NATSIEC undertook to Aboriginal communities in the NT, we heard personal stories of discrimination and racism. Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, from Galiwin’ku who had recently returned from Geneva where he talked to CERD said about the Intervention:

 It’s the most evil and most racist (policy) ever established. The Government report to CERD said ok – they are happy people. It’s a lie!

One of the most discriminatory aspects of the NT Intervention was the roll back of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which ensured that many aspects of the Intervention were excluded from the protection of the RDA. On December 31st legislation which is supposed to reinstate the RDA in full will come into effect. Despite the Government’s repeated statements that this new legislation will ensure that the rights of NT Aboriginal people will be protected in full, we are not confident that this is true.  

There are still several areas which remain as “special measures” and there remains a distinct lack of consultation on all aspects of the Intervention. Despite Government rhetoric the benefits of the Intervention remain questionable. The means of attaining these supposed benefits are outrageous in a democratic country which prides itself on the concept of a “fair go”. We have the knowledge, we have the resources, but we do not seem have the will to implement policies which will celebrate and empower Aboriginal peoples.

The media, and through them the public, often accept at face value the Government statements which tell us that things are improving in the NT while conveniently ignoring the voices of the people affected; the stories of suffering and anguish caused by these measures. We must take notice of what people are experiencing; how much longer are we going to stand by and let these things happen?

We must question the need for these special measures; we must question why Aboriginal communities are being pressured to trade land title for housing, education and health. Do they not have the right to expect Government to provide these things – as does every other Australian citizen?  We should be suspicious of the rhetoric around the “problems” of Aboriginal communities and we should fight against any attempts to diminish the capacity of Aboriginal communities to make decisions for themselves and their futures. 

People often ask me “what can I do?” There is plenty each and every one of us can do; start right here and now. Today, on human rights day we are being asked to “Speak up: Stop discrimination”. To speak up it’s necessary to ask questions and look beyond the superficial, listen to the people and take action.

You could start by watching an excellent film called Our Generation. This is an important film which gives voice to those people affected by the Intervention. Go to to find out when a community screening is being held in your area. If there isn’t one, buy the DVD and organize one.

One of the key messages in the Make Indigenous Poverty History campaign was to Remember, Recognise and Rectify. We need to Remember the past, to know a true and honest picture of what has gone before. We need to Recognise what is still going on today; to understand that colonization and discrimination are alive and well around the country. Most importantly we need to Rectify. It’s not enough to know about something, we must take action. It may be as simple as challenging an ignorant statement at a dinner party or it may be taking to the street; writing to the Prime Minister; visiting your local MP. It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be something. Nobody in Australia can say “we didn’t know” – we do know and each and every one of us is responsible to take an action to help end discrimination and racism. So on Human Rights Day 2010, I hope you will join us at NATSIEC in speaking up and saying no to discrimination and yes to human rights for all.

Graeme Mundine, Executive Secretary, NATSIEC

The World Council of Churches (WCC) will be sending a Living Letters team to visit Australia from the 12th – 17th September 2010. The visit is in response to an invitation extended by the NCCA with the view to shed light on the human rights situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to show solidarity with the Indigenous people who feel their voices are not heard. The focus of this visit will be the impact of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).

The invitation to the WCC was extended following a forum held in 2009 by NATSIEC. This forum brought together Indigenous Church leaders from around Australia to discuss the Australian Government’s NTER (click here for further details on the forum). The aim of the forum was to show solidarity with Aboriginal people in the NT, and to formulate a common response and plan for action. A key recommendation arising from that forum was to ask the NCCA to extend an invitation to the WCC to send a Living Letters team to visit the Northern Territory.

Living Letters are small ecumenical teams visiting a country to listen, learn, share approaches and challenges in overcoming violence and in peace making, and to pray together for peace in the community and in the world

A Living Letters team previously visited Australia in 1981 to assess the situation for Aborigines. They travelled around the country for three weeks and met with a wide number of individuals, communities and organizations. The 1981 report of this visit reflected the concerns, hopes, dreams and aspirations of Aboriginal people as heard by the Living Letters team. The report gave guidance to the Churches and hope to Aboriginal people. The independent and objective points of view were valuable to take to Government to highlight what was observed and the areas where Australia needed to do better.

NATSIEC welcomes the visit of the Living Letters team. The team of eight are Indigenous people from various countries and denominations. Delegates are coming from Bolivia, Ecuador,  Indonesia, Areatora/New Zealand,  The Philippines, The USA and Egypt and Australia.

NATSIEC will post daily updates to this blog during the visit.

For further information about WCC Living Letters click here.

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