Land rights wrongs
AT midyear, Black Australian leaders were maintaining that their protests for land rights during this year’s Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Queensland, would be peaceful.
But the state’s ageing Premier, John Bjelke-Petersen — leader of the right-wing National Party, has been shooting from the hip even more wildly than usual.
Early in the year — to tie up the anti-terrorism, anti-any-kind-of-protest regulations — the Premier had his Police Minister, Russ Hinze push through a Commonwealth Games Bill. The Queensland State Council for Civil Liberties branded the bill as evidence that the Queensland government was determined to crush any attempt by Aboriginal land rights groups to draw international attention to their cause during the Games. The Government insisted that the legislation was anti-terrorist.
Some aspects of the new law:
• ‘Prohibited items’ (not defined), ‘in or near’ a ’notified area’ can be seized without reason.
• Police officers have complete immunity against liability for any action they take ‘in good faith and purporting to be done for the purposes of the act’. Which means that a police officer who unwittingly beats to a pulp a legitimate ticket holder at the Games could successfully plead that he acted ‘in good faith’.
Mr Hinze says ‘good citizens’ have nothing to fear from the legislation.
Then came the Queensland Aboriginal Land Bill (actually an amendment of earlier legislation). It was raced through the state parliament, along party lines, without amendment. The act as amended denies Aboriginal groups throughout Queensland even perpetual leasehold over their traditional lands.
The Age of Melbourne commented in an editorial entitled ‘Black act in Queensland’:
‘Underlying all Queensland Government actions has been the denial of the principles of land rights and real self-management by Aborigines... The form of tenure for people with traditional links with the land fell well short of inalienable freehold title, essential if justice is to be served. . . The legislation, as introduced to Queensland Parliament, must not be tolerated by the Federal (National) Government.
Mr Bjelke-Petersen’s next trick was to come up with an unlikely ally— a unionist who had been expelled from the Australian Communist Party and was now an official of the Victorian Pastrycooks and Biscuit Makers Union. This man, the Premier claimed, had proof that the Aboriginal land rights movement was a Soviet takeover plot and that Aboriginal land would be used as bases for assaults by foreign forces on Australia. Even ministers from his own party couldn’t swallow that one. Bjelke-Petersen stood alone — defiant as ever.
In June, Aborigines still did not know if they would get support for their campaign from any competing Black Commonwealth nation. The outlook was not reassuring. But, desperate though they might be, Australia’s Aborigines do not have a modern record of violent protest. And that is not likely to change. What is worrying is whether Queensland’s police will be able to resist wielding the big stick their government has handed them. There is cause to worry when a government legalises violence for its own use.
Bob Hawkins, Melbourne
ON Friday 29 January 1982, Dr Theo van Boven, Director of the UN Division of Human Rights in Geneva, gave the Press a copy of the speech he intended making to open the 38th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Dr van Boven drew attention to the gross violations of human rights that were taking place in UN member states. He listed specifically El Salvador and Guatemala.
Nine days later he was sacked. The polite term was that his five-year contract would not be renewed. Renewal would normally have been a formality, as the 47-year-old van Boven only took his job in 1977 and had shown no sign that he wanted to retire.
Van Boven’s going was a triumph for regimes around the world that are systematically denying human rights to their people. But it was a disaster for those whose rights are being denied.
To coincide with van Boven’s departure from his job — he left on April 30— a book has been published* which contains a collection of his speeches on the issue over the last five years.
The speeches, which generally received little publicity, are a fascinating insight into one man’s struggle to move the UN to doing more to protect people’s rights.
His theme was always that people mattered. ‘A vital test of the activities of the UN,’ he said in 1979, ‘is what it does when there is evidence that human rights are being grossly violated’.
For many, such a statement was too close for comfort. A passive UN suited them fine and complaints about van Boven’ s speeches started to come in to the UN Secretary-General.
Theo van Boven has been proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize. If his book is widely read and the challenge of human rights is taken up, then there is likely to be a clamour for action by the UN on this vitally important issue. It is the UN sown credibility that is at stake.
John Madely, Gemini
THE South African Government’s latest attempts to gain a broader power base for itself through the ‘new political dispensation’ for the Coloured and Indian people has found little favour among the black people in general.
The recommendations of a constitutional committee have just been tabled in the all-white Parliament in Cape Town. These state that Coloured and Indian people will be given greater say in local government alongside whites. But effective control of towns and cities will still remain in the hands of whites because the council has recommended that wealthy home-owners, landowners and businessmen also be given extra votes. Everyone except the majority African people will qualify to vote.
The Prime Minister, Mr P.W. Botha, announced immediately after the first reports were released that if the recommendations were implemented the stability of the country and white self-determination and preservation would always be paramount.
While the government hopes to gain some allies by luring Coloured and Indian people from the African majority, most black leaders have criticised the Government for trying to strengthen the white laager.
The national vice-chairman of the Labour Party, Mr Norman Middleton, said that the new deal for Indians and coloured people was not new at all but a variation of the three-tier government proposed by the Government in 1977.’ It is just the same old devil in new clothing and if the Coloured people go for it then they will be regarded as Uncle Toms by the community,’ he said.
He warned that there would be no peace in South Africa as long as the majority of the people, the Africans, were not given their rightful say in their own country.
The general secretary of the anti apartheid South African Council of Churches (SACC), Bishop Desmond Tutu, said that if the Indian and Coloured people were going to fall for the Government’s latest ruse to make them feel equal to whites then they were more gullible than he had believed possible.
The Press Trust of South Africa
In May 1982 the World Health Assembly decided not to adopt the International Drug Marketing Code for which Health Action International and other groups have so vigorously campaigned. But first-hand research carried out in Latin America and Asia by the US paper Newsday confirms the worst fears of those who believe that something much stronger than an internal ‘voluntary’ code is urgently needed.
Newsday’s investigations by Bob Wyrick reveal that drug multinationals continue to flood developing countries with over-valued products that are eagerly taken up by uninformed consumers taught to seek over-the-counter cures. Untrained druggists ‘routinely prescribe and dispose of powerful, often dangerous compounds that in the industrialised world would require medical authorisation,’ writes Wyrick.
The following are among many specific abuses uncovered by Newsday:
• In 1969 the use of the antibiotic Albamycin was sharply restricted in the US because one patient in five had allergic reactions and 110 cases of drug-induced blood diseases were reported, 12 of them fatal. In 1978, Albamycin was banned in Colombia following newspaper exposes of the dangers. In 1981, however, Albamycin was still sold in Brazil, Kenya, Costa Rica and 27 other countries.
• Chloramphenicol, which was linked to aplastic anaemia, a fatal blood disease, is prescribed in the US only as a last resort for a few life-threatening infections. In Thailand, one Asian company advertises its brand of chloramphenical for more than 40 illnesses including measles, chicken pox, and skin diseases.
• In Brazil, the authorities require a red line to be drawn on containers of medicines too potent to be sold without prescription. Recently (late 1981) a Newsday reporter sent a 17-year old boy, Heraldo Machedo Assis, into a drugstore in Sao Paulo to buy ten popular drugs. Heraldo was given enough money but no prescription. He returned shortly with all ten items. Five of the packages were marked in red ink.
• Conmel (dypyrone) which was banned in the US in 1977 is still sold widely in Latin America In Colombia it can be bought in roadside stores and local bars.
JADE was once regarded as a symbol of the best qualities in man. But along today’s jade trail — from the jungles of Burma to the emporiums of Hong Kong —this is a gem that in reality drives men to gang wars or suicide.
The precious mineral is mined in the heart of the notorious ’Golden Triangle’ of Northern Burma from where the bulk of it is smuggled into Thailand. The jade industry has been nationalised by the Burmese government but at least 10 to20 times what is sold officially is smuggled abroad.
The mining areas are full of rebels of the Kachin Independency army. And passage of the jade is taxed by these and other groups who use the funds to maintain ‘liberation armies’.
Some of the biggest opium smugglers, who also maintain private armies, are also among the top jade traffickers. And the periodic wars for the rich and deadly opium harvest can also be regarded as ‘jade wars’.
Khun Sa, the most powerful opium warlord of the Triangle, maintains a highly profitable sideline in jade. And although his Shah United Army, formerly based in Thailand. was badly battered by Thai military forces early this year, his opium network is still strong and his jade operation is still run by a relative.
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is a key transit point for Hong Kong. the world’s jade capital. Jade is normally sold as rocks, with only a sliver of crust shaved off to show inside. It is virtually impossible to tell from this exposed slice whether the stone inside is good only for a paperweight or whether it has the translucent, unmarred texture and uniform colouring that will fetch thousands of dollars.
Best quality jade — rarely found on the market— can go for as much as $400,000 a pound in Chiang Mai. Dealers who have made such an all-or-nothing purchase, have been known to calmly watch the saw bisect their stones and then leave to blow their brains out.
In Sam's shadow
IN 1898 Puerto Rico was invaded by United States Forces and became an American colony. Today, over 80 years later, the islanders must decide whether to integrate fully with the mainland and accept an offer of Statehood recently made to them by President Reagan.
Only 40 years ago Puerto Rico lay bowed by the burden of dire poverty, its economy ruined by the failure of the sugar market. With no major industries and with the land and farms all having gone to the vanished sugar corporations the future was not bright.
In the late 1940’s. however, the island was designated by the US for a programme of industrial growth known as ‘Operation Bootstrap’. Through tax and other incentives, hundreds of new factories were attracted. The aim was not only to revitalise the economy but also to pedestal Puerto Rico as a model of social development.
This period undoubtedly brought great benefits to the island. The per-capita income soared to the highest in Latin America, illiteracy was reduced to a respectable 10 per cent and life expectancy was raised dramatically to around 71 years. Puerto Rico, as a result, has been able to free itself from many of the poverty-induced turmoils of its neighbours.
But this development has not been without its costs. An exaggerated emphasis on industrial development has hindered attempts to redevelop agricultural production. And, more seriously, the industrial base itself is now threatened. More and more firms are starting to move to countries where labour is cheaper and more easily controlled— Haiti, for example, where the official minimum wage is under $1 a day and the police make sure that there are no labour problems. In Puerto Rico unemployment is as high as 50 percent in some towns and over half the population was using the American food stamp programme in 1981.
Even more worrying is the impact that the US has had on Puerto Rican culture. There is a close identification with American ideology and a lot of crude materialism. Indeed people resent their dependence on the US and the way that American society has swamped Puerto Rican identity.
Terrorism is an increasingly regular phenomenon, the most serious case so far being the destruction of 19 US Air Force planes.
With little control over their own destiny a growing number of Puerto Ricans feel a sense of frustrated impotence. Puerto Rico may have been freed of many of the problems of developing countries but seem now to have replaced the progress with a resigned, suspicious and resentful stagnation.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7