Tag Archives: Human Rights

Eddie Mabo: Celebrating 25 years of native title for Indigenous Australians

It’s hard to believe it was just 25 years ago that the momentous legal case recognising the land rights of the Meriam people, took place here in Australia.

The Mabo Case, as it is known today, challenged the concept of ‘terra nullius’ or land belonging to no one and claimed native title to the Murray Islands.

In 1974, while working as a grounds keeper at James Cook University, Eddie Mabo learned that what he thought of as his people’s traditional land was actually owned by the Government. This discovery lead him to challenge the land ownership laws in Australia.

Image source: aiatsis

The case began in 1982 on the grounds that the Meriam people had:

  • Continuously inhabited and exclusively possessed these lands
  • Lived in permanent settled communities
  • Had their own political and social organisation

On these grounds, the Mabo case sought recognition of the Meriam people’s rights to this land.

It took ten years, but finally on 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia ruled that the lands were not terra nullius and that the Meriam people were “entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands”.

The High Court recognised the fact that Indigenous peoples had lived in Australia for thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land according to their own laws and customs. Unfortunately, Mabo died of cancer just months before the ruling was made.

Mabo was posthumously awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Awards, together with the Reverend Dave Passi, Sam Passi (deceased), James Rice (deceased), Celuia Mapo Salee (deceased) and Barbara Hocking. The award was in recognition “of their long and determined battle to gain justice for their people” and the “work over many years to gain legal recognition for indigenous people’s rights”.source.

The new law of native title replaced the former concept of terra nullius. In recognition, the High Court changed the law in Australia to establish the Native Title Act 1993, paving way for claims by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take back their traditional rights to their land.

Image credit: alchetron.com


What is the OPCAT and why should you care?

There are a lot of things that could be done to make the world a better place. Some are decisive and involve challenging people’s points of views, but some are quite simply the right thing to do. The OPCAT is one of these things.

OPCAT stands for the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It’s a long name and let’s be honest, it’s pretty intense. However, what it involves isn’t difficult, questionable, or divisive. It’s actually just common sense.

What is the OPCAT?

OPCAT is, at a base level, about ensuring that one of our basic human rights (to be free of torture), is not being violated whilst in a place of detention. This isn’t just referring to immigration detention centres (whilst this is a key element and could have a novel dedicated to why), but any place where an individual isn’t free to leave. Including prisons, rehabilitation centres, hospitals and aged care facilities, boarding schools, group homes and the like.

It’s sad to say, but you don’t need to search very hard to hear about stories of abuse from facilities like these. It seems like every few years a Royal Commission is launched to investigate abuse within one of these facilities, but little is done to actually prevent such actions.

How does it work?

What makes the OPCAT so special, it that it’s about preventing abuse from happening in the first place. It’s completely proactive and is based on regular, independent monitoring of all places of detention through independent national and international bodies.

On a national level, the OPCAT requires the government to introduce a National Preventative Monitoring (NPM) System. In a nutshell, this system is a monitoring body that has no allegiance to the government, or the places of detention. The NPM  would go into places of detention, speak to the workers and the individuals inside, review the facility and procedures and then provide a details report on their findings. This report isn’t to name and shame, but to give productive and beneficial recommendations to ensure that the facility can improve their procedures.

These findings might be:

  • Staff training to ensure they know how to effectively de-escalate a situation without reverting to restraints.
  • The need for more medical staff so that individuals can get adequate health care.
  • Stopping the use of unnecessary restraints
  • Ensuring people could get out of the building if there was a fire.
  • They would also create a standard of treatment  for all facilities across Australia.

Implementing  their recommendations would come at a financial cost. However, $16 million in compensation has been granted to people who experience ill-treatment in immigration detention centers in the past decade. Avoiding this ill-treatment in the first place seems to be to both a morally and cost effective solution.


Why won't Australia ratify the OPCAT?

If you’ve read this far, then you likely agree that the OPCAT seems like a great idea. So why hasn’t the Australian Government ratified it? The government signed the OPCAT in 2009 and pledged that they would ratify it. However, 7 years later and nothing more has been done.

Having reached out to the current government it seems as though there is no plan in place to go further with OPCAT, believing that the reactive systems we have (such as the Ombudsman) are enough. However, this just isn’t the case.

The OPCAT is a simple way to ensure that vulnerable people are still having their basic human rights intact. And it is essential that the Australian Government ratify’s the treaty and creates a preventative monitoring system.

Resources: Australian Human Rights Commission, Consideration of Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, 2012, Article 37.

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How a film can change the world

It goes without saying that visual storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to learn about a topic and to begin a conversation that may have previously been too uncomfortable – or too controversial – to discuss. A film can be the icebreaker that creates valuable social, cultural and political change. This has recently happened in the case of honour killings in Pakistan, through Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Academy Award winning documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of ForgivenessThis isn’t the first controversial topic that Obaid-Chinoy has taken on, with her previous documentary Saving Face also winning an Academy Award in 2012. Obaid-Chinoy has also been named as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world.

About the film

Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary follows the story of Saba Qaiser, a young girl who was shot by her father and uncle and then tossed into a river as punishment for running away to marry a man. Miraculously, she survived, which is what makes her story so unique. Her uncle and father were put in jail, however after pressure from her family, in-laws and the community, she forgave her father and he was legally pardoned. Once released from jail, her father boasts that his position within the community had actually been improved following the attack, bragging that his daughters will never disobey him in the future. Obaid-Chinoy hopes that her documentary can be the catalyst for change and stated the following after being nominated for this year’s Academy Awards:

“Honour killings affect hundreds of women in Pakistan every year and I hope that the film and its message will catalyze awareness and action around this crisis, igniting change for women and help put an end to this tragic abuse of human rights. This is an opportunity for Pakistan to acknowledge that it has a problem and to address it with urgency because there is no honor in an honor killing. We will send out a strong message that this heinous crime is not a part of our culture or religion, and by passing this legislation we will stand up for those victims who are no longer with us today.”

Blog Film
Blog Film

What is an honour killing?

An honour killing is premeditated murder (or attempted murder) that is performed in order to restore the reputation and honour of a family. It usually involves killing a young woman after she has brought dishonour to her family in matters of love and marriage. This dishonour can be brought on by a range of different acts including, but not limited to, alleged marital infidelity, refusal to submit to an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, perceived flirtatious behaviour and being raped.

Honour killings are a global issue

This isn’t a small issue that is only happening in one place. According to the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, the rates of honour killings performed globally are around 5,000 each year, however this figure is considered an underestimate, as many victims do not survive and their families do not come forward to authorities.

India and Pakistan have some of the highest recorded rates – with around 1,000 women killed each year in both countries. High rates are also evident in North Africa and Iran as well as in democratic countries such as North American and Canada. On average there are 12 honour killings in the UK annually.

"Honour killings affect hundreds of women in Pakistan every year and I hope that the film and its message will catalyze awareness and action around this crisis, igniting change for women and help put an end to this tragic abuse of human rights."

A short history of honour killings in Pakistan

Prior to 2004, honour killings in Pakistan were treated as an act of passion. I repeat, in 2004 (a mere 12 years ago), a father could openly kill their daughter for refusing an arranged marriage and would not suffer any consequences. There has been some progress in the last decade with honour killings now regarded as murder, or attempted murder. However, there is a loophole. If the victim, or their family choose to forgive the perpetrator, then there is no punishment. This is called the forgiveness loophole and is the same loophole that allowed Qaiser’s father to avoid punishment. It seems absurd that you could forgive someone after they shot you in the head with the full intention to kill you. However, when your family, friends and community are all pressuring you, there is little other option but to forgive in order to move forward in your life.

The film's impact

This film will be released in partnership with HBO later this year, but the effects of this powerful story have already had political ramifications in Pakistan, with the Prime Minister stating after seeing the film: “There is no place for killing in the name of honor in Islam” and that his government “is in the process of legislating to stop such brutal and inhumane acts in the name of honor.”

Hopefully from the documentary’s release, more countries will follow Pakistan’s example of positive and progressive change towards a better future. This impact could not have bee achieved without Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary as a spark.

Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary will be released on HBO later this year.

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