Seventh Annual Hawke Lecture
Security for Whom?
Delivered by Irene Khan Secretary General Amnesty International
Redesigning Security, Reinforcing Human Rights
Wednesday 8 September 2004 at the Adelaide Town Hall
Your Excellency, the Governor Mrs Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, and other Hawke Centre Patrons Professor Lowitja O'Donoghue and Sir Eric Neal; the Honourable Mr Bob Hawke, Chancellor Klingberg, Professor Winchester, Centre Chair Dr Basil Hetzel and Director Elizabeth Ho,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people, the ancestral owners of this land on which we meet.
It is a great honour and privilege to be invited to give a lecture named after a distinguished Australian leader.
It is an honour to do so under the auspices of the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at the University of South Australia, which has a truly impressive record for encouraging debate on a wide range of critical issues, from the rights of indigenous people to the challenges of war and peace. Today it is my privilege to speak to you about human rights and security.
Australia’s heritage of human rights
Australia has a long tradition of supporting human rights around the world. At the heart of this tradition has been its abiding commitment to multilateralism - a belief in collective action in response to the world’s problems. The support of multilateralism has served Australian’s national interests while at the same time advancing global solutions to many significant challenges.
Australia made a vital contribution to the negotiations on the UN Charter to ensure that respect for human rights was placed alongside peace, security and development as the primary objectives of the United Nations. Australia also participated in the eight-member committee charged with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself. The then Australian Minister for External Affairs, Dr Evatt, led the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration in 1948.
At the same time, another Australian, Jessie Street was instrumental in drafting the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimnination Against Women. Since then Australia has played a leading role in developing international law, including key treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and important international institutions such as the International Criminal Court.
But that framework of human rights, international law and multilateral co-operation that Australia helped to build is today undergoing the most sustained attack since its establishment half a century ago. And, I am afraid that, contrary to its heritage, Australia, far from resisting those attacks, is contributing to them.
Security for whom?
In my address today, I would like to do three things:
- firstly, analyse the threat that the attack on human rights poses for global security and prosperity;
- secondly, make a case for a paradigm shift which puts human rights at the heart of the security agenda, not in contradiction to it
- and thirdly, with the appropriate humility of a non-Australian who has the greatest admiration for Australian people and Australian values, leave you with some thoughts about what Australia and Australians could do to make the world safer and more just.
The title of my talk today is – “Security for Whom”? A strange title you are thinking. Well, there is a story behind it.
In September 2002 I visited Burundi, a tiny conflict-ridden country in the heart of Africa. Just a week before my visit, there had been a massacre in which some 174 villagers were killed by the army, so badly that the authorities could not tell how many were men, how many women, or children.
There were only four survivors. My colleagues and I went to the hospital to meet the survivors. We were taken to an empty room in the hospital to wait, and then after a few minutes the door slowly opened – and a little girl came in. She could not have been more than six years old – she still had her milk teeth, a beautiful child with large black eyes in a little round face. She was naked, wrapped in a blanket, with her arm in a bandage with a sling. She told me her name was Claudine. She couldn’t remember her family name, but she recalled in vivid detail how she saw her grandfather, father, stepmother, two sisters killed, and her baby brother bayoneted by soldiers. She herself was wounded but because she was so small, she had somehow managed to crawl between the legs of the soldiers and escape in the commotion without being noticed. A neighbour found her wounded, naked and unconscious in the forest, and brought her to the hospital, but neither the neighbour nor the hospital had the means to buy her any clothes. That is why Claudine, the youngest of the four survivors of a bloody massacre, was still wrapped in a blanket when we saw her.
The next morning I had an appointment with Mr. Buyoya, the President of Burundi. I raised with him the case of Claudine and asked what he would do to stop such massacres. He replied, “ Madam, you do not understand – this is an issue of national security.”
Obviously, Claudine’s security did not feature in his plans, and so, my question, “Security for whom?” Whose security are we talking about?
For people like Claudine, war, terror and the threat of political violence is a part of daily life. But in today’s globalised world, insecurity is not limited only to distant places like Najaf and Darfur.
On Saturday we will mark the third anniversary of 9/11. On October 12 it will be two years since the Bali bombings. Next March will be first anniversary of the Madrid bombings – and even as I speak, Beslan is stricken with grief. From Manhattan to Madrid, Bali to Beslan, office workers, commuters, holiday-makers, schoolchildren have become the targets of a senseless violence they did not provoke and could have done nothing to prevent. Whether rich and powerful, or poor and marginalized, we are all vulnerable today as more and more ordinary people become targets of human rights abuse.
We live in a dangerous world, and I believe the world is being further endangered by a narrowly focussed security agenda – the key feature of which has been a sustained attack on global values, global standards and global institutions which constitute the system of human rights and international law.
Human rights under siege
Human rights embody common values of human decency and dignity, equality and justice. Their erosion weakens the basis of our common security.
Human rights are based on universal standards and legally binding treaties. If we ignore them, we undermine international commitment and cooperation to find global solutions to global problems.
Human rights are protected and promoted by the international community of states through the United Nations and other international institutions such as the International Criminal Court. If we sideline them, we weaken the institutional framework for collective security.
And yet, in the name of creating more security we see governments attacking human rights, flouting international law with impunity and turning their backs on multilateralism.
We see it happening in the way in which many governments have adopted tough laws to enhance security. Many of these measures are sensible and necessary, but many others, including parts of the Australian Federal legislation have clearly over-stepped the bounds of international law and human rights. Many of the laws were rushed through in a matter of weeks, seriously undermining the ability of parliaments and civil society to scrutinise the proposals. Yet, most of them go to the heart of such fundamental principles as the right to fair trial, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained.
Some governments have used this negative trend to legitimate their own repressive policies. In some countries like Zimbabwe overly broad definitions of terrorism are being used to conflate legitimate dissent with sedition. In others like China, it is used to legitimise clamping down on minorities. In still others like Russia the long-standing conflict in the Chechen Republic is being linked to international terrorism, ignoring the domestic political dimensions of the conflict.
What we are seeing the arrogant triumph of power over legality and morality. Nowhere is it more obvious than in the way in which the US Administration has framed and is conducting what it calls the “war on terror.” By speaking of “war”, the US Administration is denying the applicability of human rights or civil liberties. By speaking of “terror”, it is ducking the application of international humanitarian law. And by combining the two into a “war on terror”, the Administration is trying to put its actions outside the realm of international law and domestic judicial scrutiny.
Openly flouting international law, the US has detained hundreds of people without charge or trial, has designated its own citizens as enemy combatants, refused to investigate mass killings by its allies in Afghanistan, turned a blind eye to allegations of torture and custodial deaths until the pictures appears on the front pages of the newspapers, and condemned hundreds of prisoners, including minors and the very elderly, to indefinite incarceration in Guantanamo, without charge or trial, access to family or lawyers.
This is totally inconsistent with the human rights framework which is based on the premise that there can be no lacuna in the law that leaves individuals unprotected and governments unaccountable.
Guantanamo has been described by one commentator as a “global experiment in inhumanity”. By a blanket presidential decree all the detainees, including two Australians, have been denied POW status under the Geneva Conventions and labeled as unlawful combatants, a title with no significance in law. Only recently has the US Supreme Court been able to bring some hope to a hopeless situation by allowing individuals the right to judicial review.
In the post September 11th environment even the absolute prohibition against torture is no longer absolute – “stress and duress” has been the new pseudonym for torture. Abu Ghraib has hit the news, but we have documented allegations of torture and ill treatment in other places of detention. The pictures taken at Abu Ghraib caused universal revulsion – but we should not be surprised by what we are seeing. This is the logical consequence of the relentless pursuit of the “war on terror” by the United States Administration, the natural outcome of a policy that sought to protect the Executive from judicial scrutiny.
Undeterred by international outrage and domestic criticism, the US Administration has continued to deal with its detainees in Guantanamo, Bagram and elsewhere as it sees fit. Some were handed over to regimes which are known to practice torture. Some people were randomly released, including British and Danish citizens. Others, among them an Australian, David Hicks, have been randomly selected to be tried by military commissions. Amnesty International believes that these commissions violate both international and US domestic standards of fair trial. Justice requires the granting of all judicial guarantees regardless of the crime, or it is no justice at all.
What has been the Australia’s response as an ally of the US to these human rights violations?
Following concerns raised in the media as to whether the two Australians had been subjected to torture or ill-treatment, the Australian Prime Minister asked the United States to ‘look into the matter’. Amnesty International considers that the investigations were neither exhaustive nor independent, particularly as there was no direct interview of detainees themselves or access by independent medical experts.
Contrary to our assessment of the military commissions, in November 2003, the US and Australian governments announced that they had reached agreement on the military commissions. Australia is the only Western Government to reach an agreement of this nature with the US. Only belatedly and recently, has the Australian government expressed concerns about David Hick’s trial. It remains silent on the case of the other Australian, Mamdouh Habib, or on the treatment of other detainees in Guantanamo, Iraq or elsewhere held by the US.
By failing to use its influence on the US to uphold human rights, the Australian government has failed to stand up for due process and basic rights. It has reneged on the Australian heritage of “a fair go” and multilateral cooperation. It has betrayed its own citizens in Guantanamo.
And it has contributed to the climate of fear and mistrust which has dominated the world post 9/11, in particular through its discriminatory and restrictive policies on refugees and asylum seekers. Scapegoating refugees and migrants is not new of course – as we know Tampa preceded 9/11 - but it has gained a new lease of life in the context of the War on Terror. Some parts of the media have played upon it, as have some politicians to win short-term electoral gains.
Australia is not alone in this of course. Today, security laws and policies in many countries, including the UK and the US deliberately target foreigners, refugees and asylum seekers, creating an environment in which racism and xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism can flourish. And so, new seeds of discord are being sown around the world.
The war on terror, followed by the war in Iraq, has created a deep sense of injustice and alienation by pitching one group of people against another. Increasing polarisation between communities has strengthened the hands of fundamentalists, Christian, Muslim or Hindu. The liberal space for dissent and tolerance is shrinking in many countries as hardliners take over from both ends of the spectrum. Civil society is no longer quite so civil in many countries as the voices of dissent, of minorities, of women and other social activists and human rights defenders are muzzled, sometimes violently.
There is growing cynicism about human rights. The angry reaction of the Arab League to Australia’s offer to send troops to assist international efforts in the Darfur crisis is just one reflection of the feeling in many parts of the world that the West has lost its moral high ground to advocate human rights. Today, in a far harsher way than any of us could have anticipated, the theme of “them and us”, “you are with us or against us” is being played and re-played around the world. And the victims of that divisive philosophy are, unfortunately, ordinary men, women and children in places like Darfur.
The “war on terror” has reinforced the backlash against women’s human rights from Christian and Muslim fundamentalists. Take women in Afghanistan, where much was made of the Taliban’s treatment of women but the international community has miserably failed to make life more secure for women, let alone ensure protection for their rights. There is a serious risk that in Iraq we will see a backlash against women’s human rights.
Add to that poverty, discrimination and inequality. Globalisation that was supposed to bring us together – lift the boat so to speak – has led to greater polarisation. We are living in a world that is not only unsafe but also inherently unfair. Where’s the “fair go” when in an age of unprecedented economic growth a billion people are still surviving on less than US$1 a day - nearly two thirds of them in Asia and a quarter in Africa? What’s fair about a world in which 1% of the people own as much wealth as 57% of the rest? Or when laws, policies and practices discriminate against women, denying them equality with men, politically, economically and socially? Can we speak of a fair world when over half the population of Africa do not have access to life saving drugs, but five of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world earn twice the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa? True justice is both socio-economic and legal. Human rights are also about economic and social rights – but they are systematically being ignored, despite commitments of the kind we find in the Millennium Development Goals. Can we truly believe that we will make the world safer for a handful of us through military might or security measures, while the rest of the population continue to live in misery?
Building a new paradigm
Insecurity is bound up intimately with the failure to respect human rights, on the one hand, and concerted action to undermine them on the other.
So where does that leave us?
I hope with the realisation that reinforcing is the way to also reinforce security. As Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, has said: “In the long term we shall find that human rights, along with democracy and social justice, are one of the best prophylactics against terrorism.”
That is why we must not lower our standards on human rights. People have the right to be secure from violence and governments have the responsibility to ensure that security. But governments cannot respond to terror with terror. The right to security – like all so many rights - is not absolute.
Those who commit cruel, criminal and callous acts must be brought to justice – but it is essential that this be done in accordance with international standards of human rights. If we are not prepared to protect the rights of those whom we believe to be guilty, we endanger the rights of the innocent.
Again to quote Kofi Annan: “The moral vision of human rights is among our most powerful weapons against terrorism. To compromise on human rights would be to hand terrorists a victory they cannot achieve on their own.”
That is why I believe that global insecurity far from diminishing the value of human rights actually heightens the need to respect them. That is why I advocate for a paradigm shift of security which places human rights and human beings at the centre of the international agenda.
There can be no real, lasting security, without respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is more formal language for saying that we in Amnesty International believe in a fair go for all. That is what respecting someone’s human rights is about. And giving people a fair go is clearly something Australians understand and support.
A fair go for all means addressing more forcefully than has been the case so far the real sources of insecurity and injustice which confront the majority of people around the world, such as hunger, disease and discrimination, unemployment and illiteracy, state oppression and police corruption. Let’s face it, for some people HIV/AIDS is a bigger threat than terrorist bombs. For most women, the likelihood of being battered at home is a higher probability than being bombed on a bus. This is not to undermine the real threat of terrorism, but to put it into perspective so that we can build a more balanced response to global threats.
The world does not need a “war on terror”, it needs a culture of peace based on human rights and social justice. It needs a shared vision of collective security and global solidarity.
What role for Australia?
I believe that Australia, given its history of constructive engagement on global issues, has a great deal to offer to this agenda. I have already mentioned Australia’s contribution to human rights. Australia’s strong leadership was critical also for the International Criminal Court and the Chemical Weapons Convention. In East Timor Australia won international plaudits when it led the United Nations-authorised multinational force in 1999.
Unfortunately, now in East Timor it is being accused of beggaring its neighbour. More generally too some of the shine on Australia’s international reputation, I regret to say, has rubbed off.
A number of recent Australian initiatives have shown a disturbing willingness to ignore international standards and conventions to which Australia is a signatory. In particular, Australia's refugee policies of recent years and its attitude to issues surrounding the detainees in Guantanamo Bay appear to reflect a wavering commitment to the laws and values that Australia has upheld internationally for so many years. One has the impression that bit by bit, Australia is detaching itself from, or is increasingly willing to reject those elements of international human rights and humanitarian law that are no longer considered "useful".
Australia no longer accepts the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice over boundary issues.
It will not sign the Kyoto Protocol.
It has decided not to ratify the Optional Protocol Against Torture.
It has rejected UN reports on aborigines and has ignored international refugee law.
Australia appears to be sending a message to the world that international solidarity and international law can be jettisoned just at the time when the world needs countries like Australia, more than ever. International laws and conventions are international life-lines for us all. I believe Australia needs those lifelines as much as anyone else.
Let me just highlight five specific areas where I think Australia can both make a contribution to international security and human rights and benefit from it.
First, and foremost upholding international law and the international system for human rights
Australia must move away from the selective approach that it has taken in recent years to cooperation with the UN human rights bodies. By all means, push for reform – we all know that is badly needed – but the efforts at reform must seek to strengthen the UN, not weaken it in the name of economic efficiency.
The Australian government must be more vocal on the backlash against such fundamental human rights, as torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trial. It must speak out against Guantanamo, and the unfair treatment of its own citizens as well as others. In a region where and at a time when the prohibition of torture is being questioned, Australia’s decision not to ratify the Optional Protocol against Torture is not just unfortunate, it is unwise. Australia’s credibility as a multilateral player on the human rights stage would be greatly enhanced if it shows itself ready to accept international scrutiny, for instance by ratifying the Optional Protocol against Torture, and extending an open and standing invitation to the UN Special Rapporteurs – the UN human rights experts - to visit Australia. This would both enhance transparency and show commitment to international accountability – both very important messages to the world at this particular time.
Second, on international justice
An international system of justice acceptable to all would go a long way to creating a greater sense of fairness in today’s divided world. The International Criminal Court is a major achievement in that regard, but it has fallen victim to the United States’ antipathy to global institutions. The US voted against the Court, and has been working actively to undermine it by signing bilateral immunity agreements for its own citizens. These agreements not only weaken the power of the ICC but they also create a dangerous precedent of unequal protection of international law. Australian troops working side by side with their American allies in places like Iraq or Sierra Leone would be subject to the Court’s jurisdiction, but not their American counterparts.
Australia played an important role in the creation of the ICC – and it must stay true to its legacy, and its belief in a fair system. The government should refuse to sign any bilateral agreement and make its decision public, so that other countries in this region and elsewhere can take heart from it and follow Australia’s lead. Australia must use its influence in the Asia Pacific region to actively promote ratification of the ICC’s Statute. Australia should give the ICC all the assistance and support it needs in this early formative period. A concrete sign of this support would be early accession to the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the ICC.
Third, on arms control
The Australian government claims that it joined the military intervention in Iraq in order to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But the biggest WMD is not nuclear, biological or chemical – it is small arms. They kill 500,000 people every year. They drain resources from development, lead to human rights abuses and destroy lives and livelihood. They encourage the recruitment of child soldiers. They facilitate violence against women and girls.
Australia has one of the world’s most effective regimes for gun control domestically. Its export/import controls take into account security and human rights considerations, and it has a good record on disarmament and small arms control in the region. Australia is ideally placed to push small arms control internationally. Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms are jointly campaigning for an international arms trade treaty that would prohibit the sale of small arms to countries where they could contribute to abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law. We have been able to get the support of a number of governments, including Cambodia, Brazil, Netherlands, Finland, Tanzania and Costa Rica. I call on the Australian government to join them.
Fourth, women’s human rights
In March this year, AI launched a global campaign to Stop VAW. Our campaign has been received very well by women’s movements around the world, and also here in Australia. I hope to speak more about it tomorrow.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act. Over the past two decades much has been achieved but more remains to be done. Australia should develop a national plan of action to prevent and address violence against women. Making gender violence a national priority will add to your credibility and enhance the opportunity for Australian government and organisations to play a leadership role in the region. I’d like to make a plea here for Australia also to ratify the Option Protocol to CEDAW because it would send a strong signal of its willingness to play that leadership role.
And fifth, human rights at home
The Australian government cannot credibly advocate human rights elsewhere, if it fails to promote the same standards in its own country, and that applies particularly to indigenous people and refugees.
The measures in recent years to restrict access, detain and deny some basic rights to refugees and asylum seekers have put a blot on Australia’s record for being fair and generous. Many Australians I have met feel that there is nothing fair about locking up asylum seekers, including children, especially when many of those detained are later found to be genuine refugees. The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers was the main subject of my discussion when I visited Australia two years ago. Over the last year, I understand there have been a number of positive developments. However, while they are welcome, they do not reflect a substantial departure from the harsh nature of the current refugee laws, policies and practices. What is needed is a comprehensive review to ensure that laws and policies can be changed if needed to comply with international obligations, principles and standards. A principled approach would not only be in keeping with the best Australian tradition, it is also the way to generate international solidarity and cooperation without which it is not possible to solve refugee problems.
The world needs an engaged and principled Australia that is ready to play its part in the region and globally. Australia has, in the past, made its mark internationally not just because it supported policies it believed were right, but also because Australians often bring with them a practical down-to-earth quality which helps cut through the talk and make things happen. It is the sort of quality that leads to Australian aid workers and Australian peace-keepers being so much in demand around the world- they are recognized as being good at improvising and coming up with practical solutions, and getting along with the locals. Today, more than ever we need your creativity, your pragmatism, your sense of fairness and your courage.
Yes, we live in an unsafe, unfair and endangered world. We could live with our fear, or we could roll up our sleeves and have a fair go at making the world not just safer but also more just for all.
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