Australia: Morally outrageous poverty & human rights violations borne by country’s Indigenous Print E-mail
  November 19, 2009

Indigenous poverty as 'morally outrageous' as torture: Amnesty head

Scroll down to the final item to read an edited extract of Irene Khan's address to the National Press Club in Canberra on November 18  emphatically stating that "Empowerment", not a bunch of cash, is the key to ending the shocking conditions endured by the First Australians.

Topsy Ngale, aged in her 90s, with Claire Mallinson (Amnesty Australia) and Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International at Camel Camp, a remote outstation 220 kilometres north east of Alice Springs. Ms Khan yesterday gave a speech at the Nation Thursday, 12 November 2009

NATIONAL: The poverty experienced by many Aboriginal people is as morally reprehensible as torture and must be eradicated, Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan says.

In Australia for a week-long visit, Ms Khan has also called on the Rudd government to end the discriminatory measures of the Northern Territory intervention into remote Indigenous communities.

They were "stigmatising and disempowering an already marginalised people", she said.

Ms Khan visited Aboriginal homeland communities in central Australia before addressing the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday.

The poverty she saw northeast of Alice Springs reminded her of a third world country, she said in a statement.

"That Indigenous peoples experience human rights violations on a continent of such privilege is not merely disheartening, it is morally outrageous," she said.

"The moral imperative to eradicate such poverty is no less an imperative on government than to eliminate torture."

Ms Khan, the first woman, first Asian and first Muslim to head the world's largest human rights organisation, also blasted federal Labor for continuing the former Howard government's interventionist policies.

She was particularly scathing of the compulsory quarantining of welfare payments and suggested there was a "real risk" Labor could squander an opportunity to change direction.

"The blunt force of the intervention's heavy-handed one-size-fits-all approach cannot deliver the desired results," Ms Khan said.

"The government will not secure the long-term protection of women and children unless there is an integrated human rights solution that empowers peoples and engages them to take responsibility for the solutions."

The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended in the Northern Territory to allow the intervention's more controversial measures to be introduced.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has vowed to reinstate the act and will introduce the relevant legislation into federal parliament within days.

But Ms Khan warned Labor needed to do so "in line with Australia's international obligations not to discriminate against Indigenous peoples". -AAP
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SYDNEY MORNING HERALD November 18, 2009

Indigenous poverty 'outrageous:' Amnesty

AAP

The poverty experienced by many Aborigines is as morally reprehensible as torture and must be eradicated, Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan says.

In Australia for a week-long visit, Ms Khan has also called on the Rudd government to end the discriminatory measures of the Northern Territory intervention into remote indigenous communities.

They were "stigmatising and disempowering an already marginalised people", she said.

Ms Khan visited Aboriginal homeland communities in central Australia before addressing the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

The poverty she saw northeast of Alice Springs reminded her of a third world country, she said in a statement.

"That indigenous peoples experience human rights violations on a continent of such privilege is not merely disheartening, it is morally outrageous," she said.

"The moral imperative to eradicate such poverty is no less an imperative on government than to eliminate torture."

Ms Khan, the first woman, first Asian and first Muslim to head the world's largest human rights organisation, also blasted federal Labor for continuing the former Howard government's interventionist policies.

She was particularly scathing of the compulsory quarantining of welfare payments and suggested there was a "real risk" Labor could squander an opportunity to change direction.

"The blunt force of the intervention's heavy-handed one-size-fits-all approach cannot deliver the desired results," Ms Khan said.

"The government will not secure the long-term protection of women and children unless there is an integrated human rights solution that empowers peoples and engages them to take responsibility for the solutions."

The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended in the Northern Territory to allow the intervention's more controversial measures to be introduced.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has vowed to reinstate the act and will introduce the relevant legislation into federal parliament within days.

But Ms Khan warned Labor needed to do so "in line with Australia's international obligations not to discriminate against indigenous peoples".

© 2009 AAP
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November 18 2009

Amnesty Boss Urges Equality For Poor Aborigines

Amnesty International Boss Urges Australia To End Aboriginal Poverty Without Racist Policies

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Australia must abolish policies that discriminate against Aborigines in its quest to lift its indigenous population out of Third World poverty, the head of an international human rights group said Wednesday.

Irene Khan, secretary general of London-based Amnesty International, singled out for criticism the government's so-called emergency intervention aimed at eradicating child sex abuse in Outback Aboriginal communities.

The government suspended anti-racial discrimination laws two years ago so that it could target Aborigines in the remote Northern Territory with sweeping measures that ban alcohol and hard-core pornography as well as control how welfare checks can be spent. The restrictions do not apply to Australians of other races.

The government was also spending billions of dollars on improving housing, health services, schools and policing in these overcrowded communities that are often plagued by alcohol and substance abuse.

Khan, a Bangladesh-born lawyer, told the National Press Club that Aboriginal poverty was "the most pressing frontier for human rights" in Australia.

She said the government must find a solution that respected all Aborigines' rights without compromising racial equality.

"If Australia is to move to a lasting solution to poverty within its own borders, the government must move out of the knee-jerk emergency measures that are compromising and distorting human rights," Khan said in a nationally televised speech.

"They feel disempowered, robbed of their dignity, threatened with the loss of their identity and attacked on their own ancestral lands," she said of Aborigines she had met.

Khan's recent visit to Aboriginal camps and ramshackle settlements in the Northern Territory came three months after a fact-finding mission to the same region by the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya.

Anaya concluded that the sweeping restrictions imposed on Aborigines breached Australia's international obligations on human and indigenous rights.

In a statement Wednesday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin agreed that suspending discrimination laws had "left Aboriginal people feeling hurt, betrayed and less worthy than other Australians."

Macklin said her government would soon restore the legislation. But the government has not yet explained how the restrictions on Aborigines might be varied.

Aborigines are a minority of 500,000 among Australia's 22 million people and die on average more than a decade younger that other Australians.

Khan said she was surprised to witness first hand the extent of their poverty.

"In the heart of the First World, I saw scenes more reminiscent of the Third World - of countries torn by war, dominated by repressive regimes or racked by corruption," she said.

"It is pretty clear that what they are suffering from is a base violation of human rights and this violation occurs on a continent of such privilege that it is not merely disheartening, it is deeply disturbing," she added.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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THE AGE Melbourne Monday November 23, 2009

Money won't fix poverty

By IRENE KHAN

Illustration: Robin Cowcher

Empowerment is the key to ending the shocking conditions endured by some Australians.

WHEN I met Elsie she was squatting in the raw dirt of an open field, surrounded by all her belongings, which bore the dents and scratches I have seen inflicted on scant possessions when people have to flee, for example from flood, war or forced evictions. I walked down the desert track, past the filthy and worn mattresses set out in the open air that were used as beds by Elsie's mates, past the wooden crate perched on a rough-hewn bench that is their kitchen, and stepped over the tangled extension cord that brought electricity to their single lamp.

I squatted beside her in the slight shade cast by the blue plastic slung over the sticks that marked her living space. Through an interpreter, she said: ''Lady, I pay rent to the government for sleeping on a mattress in the desert. I have no home, I don't have a voice, no one is listening to me or my family.''

Did I meet Elsie in Sudan, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan? No. The political leaders responsible for Elsie's situation are not to be found in Khartoum, Colombo or Kabul. They are in Canberra and Darwin. I met Elsie in Utopia in the Northern Territory.

In the heart of the First World I saw scenes more reminiscent of the Third World, of countries torn by war, dominated by repressive regimes, racked by corruption. How is it possible that in 21st-century Australia - in the land of the fair go - its first people should be among those living in abject destitution, in such appalling poverty?

Australia is one of the world's rich countries, with most scales ranking it among the top 30 countries by GDP per capita. By other measures, such as health, longevity, community life, political stability and political freedom, Australia leaps well up the world's league table and into the top 10.

I did not expect to see abject poverty to this degree in the lucky country.

Utopia is a microcosm of what is happening on a larger scale around the world. In a period of unprecedented economic growth globally, the real numbers of people living in poverty have increased, as has the gap between the richest and poorest groups of people in every country in the world.

Why is it so hard to end poverty? Because despite extensive research findings, government officials, policymakers and international financial institutions too often tend to define poverty in terms of income. But economic analysis does not capture the full picture of poverty and economic solutions cannot fully address the problem. Unless and until we address the human rights abuses that impoverish people and keep them poor, we will fail to eradicate poverty. That is as true in Australia as it is in Somalia.

People are poor not just because of how little they earn but because they are discriminated against and deprived, because they live in insecurity and are marginalised and excluded, and because their voices are not heard. It is important to consider each of those elements, but it is also important to recognise that these elements reinforce each other in a downward spiral that traps people in poverty. The answer to tackling it lies not in enrichment but the empowerment of the poor.

At birth, indigenous Australians are twice as likely to be low weight, and as they age they get sicker and die younger. The life expectancy of indigenous people in Australia is 17 years lower than that of the rest of the population. The rate of infant mortality is twice as high. Similar statistics are repeated across the world between those living in poverty and others.

The poor live with discrimination. Women, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations are disproportionately represented among the poor. It is no mere coincidence that 70 per cent of the world's poor are women and that that proportion is growing.

Discrimination can be lessened when laws and policies are in place, but social discrimination is fed by deep-seated prejudices. And sometimes, despite government policies and efforts, social discrimination, continuing prejudices and paternalistic policies are compounded by historical injustices to leave the minority disempowered and entrenched in poverty. The tendency then for the mainstream community is to blame the minority for their own condition of poverty or exclusion.

This reflects in many ways the situation of the indigenous communities in Australia. Many of those I met in Utopia and Alice Springs spoke of the prejudice and stigmatisation they feel they continue to be subjected to, for instance by the compulsory income management scheme, which they say has left them disempowered and disillusioned.

In Australia, indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to domestic violence, and 10 times more likely to die as a result of assault. Elsie's words in Utopia are echoed by poor people everywhere. No one hears us, we have no voice. We are told what will be done. If we don't comply with their plans we do not get help. This is what poverty is about: the stuff of real human insecurity; the stuff of marginalisation, of voicelessness, of degradation, of inequality and injustice. These are human rights abuses. And so, respect for human rights is deeply relevant to the solution of poverty.

Human rights promote political participation and accountable government, which go to the heart of the issue of exclusion. In other words, the solution to poverty lies not in enrichment but in empowerment of people.
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Irene Khan is secretary-general of Amnesty International. This is an edited extract from her address to the National Press Club in Canberra last week.