Golden chord

Poem discussing Aretha Franklin’s death and contribution to the civil rights movement.

Poem by Juliette Wittich

Cry freedom

Cry respect.

One golden chord struck to touch a generation.

A voice that rose to guide forward so many other voices.

On King, on Little on Parks.

One wave of sound that crashed through vinyl oceans, washing us up on a shore where a new future seemed possible.

Sung out when we were strung out on flower power and civil rights and peace.

Cry equality, cry, cry.

An echo from the soul to light the dark.

Powerhouse, muse and star.

You know who you are.

Cry beauty, cry, cry.

Lift us from our basic selves and push us one more time to be our best.

Just one more song.

Just one more song, we cry.

Life as a paramedic in the Middle East

Ryan Ahlgren is a paramedic that works in conflict zones in the Middle East. These photos were taken by him and shared with AM-UNITY magazine, capturing his work as a medic in Iraq and Syria.

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Driving through a small desert town in Iraq- 2018.
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‘The victory of Tel Afar, 2018’ – The paramedic team were in Northwest Iraq, treating internally displaced people caught in battle.
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Taken in Al Qa’im 2018 between the border of Syria and Iraq. When Ryan and the team of medics entered the town, the dogs were running around carrying human body parts in their mouths. Over 700 people were treated in Al Qa’im.
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Ryan treating patients outside Mosul in a camp set up by Adventis Development and Relief Agency- 2018.

 

 

Playing at a price

The persisting practice of child sacrifice for dark magic rituals

Words by Merve O’Keefe

The act of children playing is a beautiful phenomenon as natural as breathing. Through play, children develop a sense of self and learn how to interact with the world around them. Children’s amount of play correlates to their physical, cognitive and emotional growth. Research demonstrates that children are particularly drawn to playing outside since they can experiment with the outside world while broadening their innate creativity. Playing is such a vital component of childhood that it’s protected under the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.

In a Turkish university, 21-year-old management student Fathima was asked to write an essay about the benefits of children playing outside. To her lecturer’s surprise, she drew attention to the fact that in her home country of Mali, children were unable to play outside due to the danger of being kidnapped and sacrificed as part of dark magic rituals.

Indeed, in many African countries, ritual killings of young children are still a reality and a persisting threat to innocent lives. Witch doctors perform rituals using body parts of kidnapped children to bring luck and wealth. They usually mutilate the children while still alive, as they believe this makes the magic more powerful. These sacrifices occur most frequently in times leading up to elections as politicians are claimed to commission sacrificial killings to increase their chances of success in the polls. Since even government officials are said to be involved, it does not come as a surprise that there is a wide disparity between statistics collected by different bodies on the animosities. Ugandan police records recorded 10 cases of child sacrifice in 2013 whereas Humane Africa reported 77 . In some communities, such as those residing in parts of South Africa, ritual killings are seldom reported due to cultural beliefs. Children with albinism, biracial children, twins, and their parents are most commonly targeted to be abducted and mutilated.

I met up with Fathima and listened to her account of the situation. Being a twin herself, she and her twin brother had especially been in danger of being abducted growing up, and they had never gone outside to play unless accompanied by their parents or nanny. She disclosed that even while going to school they had to be dropped off and later picked up by their driver because kidnappings occurred even while walking unaccompanied to school. Since not every family can afford nannies, drivers and security in their homes, it is the marginalised and poor that suffer the most from these ritual practices. Even the fact that low-income families cannot afford toys at home is a factor that pushes their children outside to play – making them targets for abductors, she says.

Children aren’t safe from the threat of being kidnapped and sacrificed even in their own homes.  The latest incident occurred in 2017 where armed men broke into a family home in Mali while a mother was sleeping with her two daughters who had albinism. The men snatched one of the girls, five-year-old Djeneba Diarra, and jumped the wall surrounding their house. Her mother tried to chase the kidnappers but then turned back to protect her second daughter. Djeneba’s decapitated body was found near a mosque and it’s believed that she was killed as part of a ritual sacrifice ahead of the upcoming elections.

Fathima also shared her feelings on the incident: “I couldn’t sleep for two nights after I read [Djeneba’s] story. Many more stories aren’t reported on so we hear news of most of them through social media. The government doesn’t take necessary measures to stop the suffering. Corruption is so widespread that even if the killers are caught, they are rarely prosecuted. The public has lost faith in the authorities serving justice and has instead started to take justice into their own hands.”

The paramilitary police headquarters in Fana, a small Malian town where the sacrifice killing took place, was set on fire in outrage of the lack of security in the country. Activists are demanding justice and calling on the state to carry out its responsibilities.

Fathima has hope that these recent protests will prompt the government to take necessary measures to look after the children, prosecute kidnappers and stop the suffering ahead of the looming elections when children are most at risk.

When asked if she planned to return to Mali,  she replied, “my country needs me.” Once she graduates, she is passionate about going back and working to stop the kidnapping and ritual killings of children. She believes that raising awareness, increasing education and ensuring that the government is fulfilling its responsibilities of establishing security in the country will contribute to the eradication of this problem.

In most parts of the world, playing outside is so natural and commonplace that we take it for granted, while evidently, in some parts of the world playing outside can have devastating implications. If you agree that children should be able to fully exercise their fundamental right to play without fear of being kidnapped and killed, please join us in calling upon the government of Mali to take measures to stop these  crimes against children.

How You Can Help

Sign the petition to call on the Malian government to prevent ritual killings of children. You may also donate to these charities to stop ritual killings from occurring across Africa: Children Under the Same Sun, URICT Uganda, Children on the Edge.

Blood begets blood

The Case Against ‘Humanitarian’ Intervention

Words by Thomas Abildgaard

At the time of writing the US has pulled out of the joint nuclear deal with Iran, has all but sabotaged the purportedly coming nuclear talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and has been sliding towards increased involvement in Syria due to chemical weapons attacks that have just now been reported by the OPCW as likely, but have not been attributed to the al-Assad government . Meanwhile, the US has left many of their key diplomatic posts empty and is cutting funding to the State Department. The hollowing out of diplomatic options and appointment of warmongers like John Bolton, suggests it is likely that the US will enter a military conflict in one of these areas in the near future. However despite numerous  US conflicts, the US Congress has not declared an official ‘State of War’ since 1942, and it is unlikely they will here. Rather, despite inadequate attempts at non-military solutions, pointedly backing out of existing solutions, and sabotaging potential solutions, these coming conflicts will likely be publicly justified under the modern rubric of  ‘global security’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ for the good of the people of Iran, Syria, or North Korea.

Beginning in the early 1990s there has been a movement in international relations towards a consensus that states have a ‘Responsibility to Protect’—known as R2P—their citizens, which if they fail through oppression, genocide, or other crimes against humanity, could justify military intervention from other concerned states. The NATO intervention in Kosovo during 1999 is often seen as the first real test case of R2P and is often held up as an unmitigated success in halting what was presented as an emerging genocide. While that perspective lingers, the reality of Kosovo in 1999 more closely resembled a vicious civil war, with what Chomsky has called scattered “ethnic cleansing attacks committed against civilians by both sides.

It was not until NATO’s illegal 78-day bombing campaign that conditions were created for the situation to deteriorate further. Before the bombing, around 2 500 people had been killed in a patchwork of ethnic violence, largely between Serb and Albanian civilians. While the situation was terrible, both NATO and OSCE reports in the lead up to the bombing do not show signs of violence accelerating towards genocide. However, the chaos and violence inflicted by the bombing of military and civilian infrastructure created the conditions for a concerted campaign of ethnic cleansing, resulting in 10 000 people killed, 1.4 million people driven from their homes, the destruction of the economy, and flooding nearby Albania and Macedonia with refugees housed in precarious camps.

Almost 20 years on, Kosovo has spent nearly ten years under an inadequate UN protectorate that allowed violence to continue, and has been independent for almost ten years. As of November 2017 there are still 201,047 registered internal displaced people in Serbia, mainly from Kosovo, corruption renders effective governance and economic revival impossible, and the war remains a palpable wound to many of its citizens. There were no easy answers to the situation in Kosovo 1999. However, the argument for the intervention relies purely on the counter-factual assertion that not intervening would have left a worse humanitarian situation despite evidence to the contrary. The stark reality is that Kosovo is a shattered region still far from recovery and that the NATO bombing and occupation contributed, and likely facilitated, this state of affairs.
Turning to the Middle East, the now seven-year-old intervention in Libya is  often presented as a successful case of humanitarian intervention. The reality is that while the intervention resulted in the capture, brutal torture, and summary execution of former leader Muammar Qaddafi, it also led to countless civilian deaths, escalated the conflict beyond any possible resolution, and left a once prosperous state in ruins.  According to Human Rights Watch, the initial 2011 US-NATO air strikes resulted in the deaths of 72 civilians, at least one-third of them children. As of 2017, war crimes including summary executions, civilian disappearances and corpse desecrations continue as the UN-backed Government of National Accord compete for power with the Interim Government. Other militia groups are active and terrorising the populace throughout the country, the economy is destroyed, public services such as the medical system and judiciary have been dismantled, and over 200 000 people have been internally displaced and subjected to torture, forced labour and sexual violence.

In their 2016 report on the Libya intervention, the British House of Commons Foreign Relations Committee found that the potential for genocide was  exaggerated by rebel groups and Western powers, and the intervention was based on “little intelligence.” While Qaddafi’s rule was both dictatorial and often brutal, Libya had made strides forward in women’s rights and equality, and had become the richest and most developed country in Africa whilst remaining debt free. Turning this country into a quagmire of death and dissolution was not a success for the citizens of Libya, and Qaddafi, while a horrendous dictator, was no more so than the leaders of other longstanding ‘friends’ of the USA.

‘Humanitarian’ military interventions should never be referred to as a success. They are a failure of prevention. In this country our Governments have been perfectly happy to support the USA’s interventions, joining in the bombings and arming competing sides. Meanwhile, programs that would help prevent these catastrophes, such as increased foreign aid, building diplomatic ties, rethinking sanctions, increasing aid to refugees, accepting refugees, and fostering civil society in troubled regions, are neglected and defunded. We are willing to pour our blood and treasure into the acceleration of killing, but never to prevent it, and never to protect its victims. Instead, we continue their abuse.

Please reach out to Amnesty International and urge your MP to both end the harmful practices on Manus, to say no to ‘humanitarian’ wars, and to increase foreign aid.

Justice in Myanmar

Myanmar and the International Criminal Court of Justice

Words by Adrienne Ringin

The desperate plight of the Rohingya in recent months has rightly evoked international outrage. On 1 May 2018, UNICEF reported that since August 2017, approximately 655, 000 Rohingya had fled Myanmar to neighbouring states. Vivid recounts of mass extrajudicial killings, arson, rape, torture and mutilation have prompted the international community to finally condemn Myanmar’s leaders for the systemic abuse of a people within their nation’s borders. While the spike of the crisis appears to have passed, the attempt to hold the perpetrators accountable has only just begun.

On 9 April 2018, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested a determination from the judges as to whether the ICC has the jurisdiction to open a probe into the crisis in Myanmar. The determination is necessary as Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which would have automatically granted the ICC jurisdiction. An investigation could have been launched had Myanmar accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction (Rome Statute Article 12(3)) or if the United Nations Security Council referred the situation to the ICC (Rome Statute Article 13 (b)) but both of these avenues remain unemployed. Prosecutor Bensouda’s argument is unique as it attempts to utilise the Rome Statute membership of Bangladesh and the crime of deportation to justify the jurisdiction of the ICC. The success of this endeavour will be revealed eventually. In the interim, advocates have an opportunity to turn their minds to the legal requirements of the crimes with which the perpetrators could be charged with.

The ICC’s jurisdiction, found in Article 5 of the Rome Statute, is limited to the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole” – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The UN’s Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, told the Human Rights Council in March that she was ‘increasingly of the opinion that the events in the Rakhine State bear the hallmarks of genocide’. Indeed, accounts of the act perpetrated against the Rohingya are strikingly similar to those acts perpetrated against the Tutsi population of Rwanda in 1994 and the Muslim population of Srebrenica during the Yugoslavian conflict – both atrocities later branded as genocide.

But what does it entail to charge an individual with the crime of genocide? So far, the international community has demonstrated a great reluctance to use this term, preferring to use the watered down ‘ethnic cleansing’ which is encapsulated under ‘crimes against humanity’. This is because genocide holds an elevated place in the hierarchy of crimes; it is considered the most egregious resulting in great caution around its use. This distinction is evident in the complex legal definition which consists of three separate requirements, each featuring numerous elements and thresholds. A further complication is the fact that the ICC has never convicted an individual of genocide : limited resources, lack of state support and selectivity of the cases so far presented are some reasons why this is the case.  It is therefore likely that the pursuit of a genocide charge will adhere to the case law stemming from the International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia respectfully, with the judgements of Akayesu, Kayishema and Ruzindana, Krstic, and Blagovoc and Jokic the most informative.

Article 6 of the Rome Statute uses the definition of genocide from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It states that:

‘For the purpose of this Statute, ‘genocide’ means any of the following act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;

  2. Causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group;

  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  4. Imposing measure intended to prevent births within the group;

  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’

The three separate requirements are the ‘acts’ requirement, the ‘group’ requirement and the ‘dolus specialis’ or ‘special intent’ requirement. The ‘acts’ requirement is set out in the subparagraphs of the definition featuring subtle nuances which prevent this requirement from being straightforward. For example, Akayesu ruled that intent and knowledge must be displayed to qualify as ‘killing’ while Kayishema and Ruzindana found that ‘conditions of life’ has been said to include instances of rape, lack of hygiene, medical care, excessive work and physical exertion. There is a real possibility that one or more of these acts could be found to apply to the Rohingyan crisis.

The protected groups are the ones enumerated explicitly in the list. These terms remain  mostly undefined, allowing case-by-case determinations to be made using both subjective and objective criteria (as determined in Nahimana) but using the broad parameters established in Akayesu. ‘National’ groups people with a common legal bond based on a common citizenship, while ‘ethnical’ is considered to be more cultural. ‘Racial’ applies to those bound by common descent, with ‘religious’ binding people through common theistic beliefs. The list has been interpreted as exhaustive resulting in social and political groups being excluded. The Rohingya would likely qualify as a national, ethnical or religious group.

The ‘dolus specialis’ is the requirement which distinguishes the crime of genocide from the crime against humanity. It is also the requirement which is usually the downfall of the prosecution as it is incredibly hard to obtain evidence of an individual’s specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a group. Direct evidence, such as government documents ordering one of the above acts, is rare. Tyrannical governments learnt the lessons of the Holocaust in that respect. Prosecutors are therefore forced to rely on circumstantial evidence such as speeches, the presence and conduct of officials at killings and the nature and scope of control. Additionally, a determination of genocidal intent can only be made where it is the ‘only reasonable inference from the totality of the evidence’ . Where another inference is plausible, the special intent cannot be established, obliterating the chance of a conviction of genocide.

The choice to pursue genocide in this situation would be precarious but not impossible. Of course, there are additional challenges that would need to be overcome due to the imperfect system of the ICC, such as the reliance placed on states to transfer the accused to the Court. It is also important to continue to support the victims during these legal deliberations. Bangladesh, which hosts most of the refugees, is about to enter into its monsoon season. Agencies are anticipating flooding in the refugee camps, resulting in more chaos and uncertainty for those who have already suffered enough.

Take action

While it is imperative to work towards a legal solution, also consider making a pledge to count your voice among those who stand against violations of international law.

It’s not just about ‘Change the Date’

26 January is a day of mourning

Words by Adrienne Ringin

As evidenced by the thousands who flocked to rallies in the major cities, changing the date of ‘Australia Day’ is a significant issue for all Australians. January 26th is not a day to recognise national unity;  It’s day to remember Australia’s first peoples who never signed a treaty or ceded their land. It’s day to remember the violence of colonisation which tore cultures and families apart. It’s a day of mourning.

Support for the campaign to Change the Date has increased over recent years. Indigenous voices and allies have been effective at raising awareness throughout all facets of society. Backing from athletes, musicians and even government parties has been attained with various local councils (Yarra, Darebin and Moreland) demonstrating their support by moving citizenship ceremonies to an alternate day. Such success is the result of serious targeted campaigning from dedicated individuals. As understanding increases, it is possible that in the near future, January 26th will be a day commemorated for the right reasons.

Continual advocacy for this particular issue is important but as January 26th has passed for another year, now is the time for all who care about the state of equality in this country to shift energy and re-engage with some other crucial campaigns which have been lost from the public view while the Change the Date campaign was prominent. If the same passion and fervour are ignited for the following issues, there is a greater chance that real, systemic and lasting change will follow.

Indigenous Imprisonment Rates

According to the 2016 Census, there are 786, 689 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders currently residing within the territorial borders of Australia. This equates to only 2 per cent of Australia’s entire population. In the correction system however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders account for 27 per cent of the prisoner population with 76 per cent having experienced previous imprisonment.

This overrepresentation continues in the juvenile justice system. Between 2015-2016 there were 5,500 ten to seventeen-year-olds under youth justice supervisions which includes supervision orders and detention. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were the majority of both of these categories: Indigenous children made up 49 per cent of those under supervision and 59 per cent of those in detention. Australia made international headlines when the restraint mechanisms used on Dylan Voller were made public, and the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory revealed further stories of systematic abuse and neglect of children in detention.

The inquiries into this state of affairs over the years have been numerous, and in October 2016 George Brandis announced yet another investigation, the Inquiry into Indigenous Incarceration. The final report was tabled in Parliament in March this year but does not reveal anything that was not already well known – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are 14.7 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous men while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 21.2 times more likely. What we now must ensure is that the thirty-five recommendations from this inquiry are actually enforced and adequately funded rather than consigning this most recent report to the pile.

Constitutional Recognition and Treaty

In stark contrast to its contemporaries such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand, Australia is one of the very few former colonies which does not have a treaty with its First Nations people. Constitutional protection is similarly not afforded. Two separate but associated movements have gathered momentum lately which seek to rectify the position.

The First Nations National Constitutional Convention was a historic event which saw Indigenous leaders from across Australia present a united consensus demanding constitutional recognition – The Uluru Statement from the Heart. This would be realised through a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous representative body providing a voice to Parliament on Indigenous issues. Constitutional recognition allows for permanence and stability, feats not possible through a legislated body which can be scrapped with a change of government. Malcolm Turnbull’s dismissal of such a body featured spurious mistruths including that such a body would create a third chamber of government (wrong: it’s a voice to the parliament not in the parliament), that it would not have the backing of the Australian people (false: even conservatives approve the plan) and that it undermines equality (incorrect: it gives an Indigenous voice to Indigenous issues). This movement needs supporters to prove Malcolm Turnbull wrong.

The Convention also saw the resurgence of the call for a Makarrata Commission. A Yolngu word which has multiple connotations, it is often employed to mean ‘treaty’ but also ‘captures the ideas of two parties coming together after a struggle and healing the divisions of the past’. This movement has been around since the 1970’s, but the success of the Convention has stirred it again. The difficulty of this movement is the uncertainty around what a treaty would entail as well as the ongoing ramifications should one be enacted. This uncertainty has led past campaigns to stall but now is the time for its revival with passionate, informed supporters.

Black Lives Matter: Australia

This movement is just as crucial here as it is in the United States. The tragic death of Elijah Doughty and the subsequent sentence imposed illuminates that access to justice in Australia can still depend on the colour of your skin. Elijah’s death is one in a long line of Aboriginal deaths that have been met with reports of ‘suspicious’, unknown’, ‘accidental’ or ‘inevitable’; where murder has been changed to manslaughter; where the murderers enjoy the privilege of remaining unnamed ‘for their protection’; where Black witnesses are tagged as unreliable. It’s time to change this narrative; it’s time to care about all of us.

Change the Date is a visible campaign and one of great importance to this nation but each of the campaigns mentioned also need support. Each work to rectify the damaged state of equality which Australia finds itself in. While there is no single element which will immediately improve Indigenous Justice in Australia, by uniting on these fronts, there is a greater possibility that improvement will be felt in the near future.

Take action

Interested in creating change? Sign the petition and show your support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  .

You can also ‘like’ the BlackLivesMatterAU Facebook page to keep up to date on that story here.

Get involved with Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Justice campaigns.