Presentation Sisters attend Human Rights Conference
There was a quiet excitement as the delegates began arriving on 6 October 2011 at the Royal on the Park, Brisbane, for the first day of the Amnesty International Human Rights Conference Change the World.
In her introduction, National Director Claire Mallinson told us that Brisbane had been chosen as the venue to offer support to the city after the losses experienced during the January 2011 flood.
Indigenous singer Maroochy Barambah sang a moving welcome to country. She shared her story and her compassion for the Stolen Generation.
The Plenary speakers were:
- Les Malezer – co-Chair of the first Congress of Australia’s First Peoples – spoke on Indigenous issues on the international and domestic stage.
- Salil Shetty (India) – Secretary-General of Amnesty International – considered future directions in human rights. He recalled events of the last 50 years to support his statement that we must always expect the unexpected.
- Widney Brown (USA) – Senior Director of International Law and Policy at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International – looked at human rights in our region. 70% of the world’s Indigenous peoples and 60% of the Earth’s total population live in the Asia Pacific region; some of the poorest and smallest countries are also found here. Widney gave a very comprehensive analysis of the issues in our area, concluding with the hope that we can make this a century for human rights in Asia.
Of the five workshops offered, I chose Issues of Justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Two speakers shared their personal stories, while the other two related the historical background from an Indigenous perspective.
The afternoon concluded with a panel of lawyers who considered the challenges and opportunities that Human Rights faces in the 21st century.
I was impressed with the quality of the speakers and the friendliness of participants and speakers. The day was extremely well organised. There were many memorable statements made; one that remains with me is:
It takes time for things to change, but you can’t expect they won’t change.
Peta Anne Molloy pbvm
The Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal dancers who gave the Welcome to Country to begin Day 2 of the Human Rights Conference passed on their energy and vitality to all of us.
An observation of the overall conference is one of being well planned and organised. The presence of the exuberant, skilled and passionate youth contingent from all over Australia is refreshing.
ACTION BOOTHS placed strategically on the way to the main auditorium capture the attention of participants.
Day 1 we were asked to write a letter to Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs re the Homelands issue.
Day 2 we were confronted with posters of the Refugee Journey and stories from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia and asked to sign a petition asking the Government to commit to onshore processing for asylum seekers.
Julian Burnside QC proposed that with offshore processing ‘people will be pushed away never to return’. He stressed that the important issue was where the asylum seekers were to be resettled, as long as it is in a safe place, NOT where the claims are processed. As Julian said, ‘Australia offers prosperity, peace and vastness of country, yet won’t be welcoming to refugees. By using the terminology of ‘illegals’ and ‘queue jumpers’ ALARM is created in public opinion.’ His challenge was that if Amnesty International continued the work to change the world, WE MUST CHANGE OURSELVES. This too can be a challenge for us as Presentation Sisters, Associates, Friends of Nano and colleagues.
Suzanne Gentle pbvm
Our final day began with the familiar Mantra ‘This (Australia) was and always will be Aboriginal land’.
Our panel discussion on a Sustainable Future for Homelands reinforced the voices of the Aboriginal People. As Yananymul Mununggurr proclaimed in a humble, passionate voice, ‘We are human beings, all the same despite colour, culture and religion’. Sean Kerins added to her voice, ‘stop telling us mob how to live; you should be listening to us, it’s our country’.
Our Homelands is where we belong and we want our way of life to continue, we want to raise our children so they can pass on our culture to future generations. Another panellist pointed out the contradiction of the government in pushing people who arrive on Australian shores back to their Homelands and within Australia wanting to push Aboriginal off their Homelands.
From research given, we heard that ‘those who identify with their own culture are healthier and happier than other people’. Of course it’s in the interest of the government to move the Aboriginal people off their land as this gives them easy access for mining!
It was also said that Australia needs to recognise Indigenous People ‘peoples’ more that races and have a policy on the notion of peoplehood.
Our final session of the conference came from an extraordinary woman, Rebiya Kadeer, on ‘Working for the Rights of Uyghurs’ – her people the Indigenous people of East Turkestan. (Did you know there are 2 million?) Rebiya was a business woman with a wealthy background and also a member of Parliament in China. As soon as she began to speak for the rights of her people she was imprisoned and tortured. She now lives in the USA and campaigns on behalf of her people. She affirmed the work of Amnesty International. For many years the Chinese Government has tried to suppress the Uyghurs (pronounced Weegers) people, their language, ethnicity and culture. They have been economically marginalised through racial discrimination in employment. Uyghur women were very much part of political life so the Chinese Communist Party targeted women to undermine their important role in Uyghur society as child bearers and child rearers.
‘Change the World’, the theme of our Conference, begins with all of us. As Ghandi said, ‘Be the change we want’.
Noreen McGrath pbvm & Regina Daly pbvm