UPR Review of Australia’s Human Rights Record

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Australia’s human rights record took place virtually in Geneva in January. ERI’s joint submission focussed on children in detention and the age of criminal responsibility, the rights of indigenous people, asylum seekers and refugees, the impact of climate change, trafficking in persons and the need for a charter of human rights.
A total of 122 UN member States made recommendations to Australia. Even though the speaking time available to each state was less than one minute, almost all of the issues mentioned in ERI’s joint submission were the subject of recommendations.
As in previous reviews, Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees was again a major focus of concern, with more than forty countries making a range of recommendations such as urging Australia to ensure its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees complied with its obligations under international law; the ending of offshore processing, indefinite detention, the refoulment of refugees and the detention of children, and removing barriers to employment, education and health care for refugees and asylum seekers.
Almost thirty countries urged Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years in line with ERI’s recommendation, and indigenous issues were another major focus of recommendations. Six recommendations urged more action on climate change and nine addressed the issue of human trafficking.
The UPR review of Saint Lucia also took place in January. A wide range of issues were addressed, prominent among them being calls for Saint Lucia to ratify various UN conventions to which it is not a party, abolish the death penalty and address violence against women.
The governments of Australia and Saint Lucia will indicate which recommendations it will accept prior to a Human Rights Council session later this year.

Global Climate Update – A Grim Picture

The annual report issued by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) at the beginning of December paints a grim picture regarding the global climate. The WMO is the specialised agency of the United Nations for meteorology (weather and climate) and represents193 Member States and Territories.

In preparing its 2020 report the WMO looked at 7 key indicators, all of which give rise to serious concern: (click on the highlighted link to learn more about each indicator)

1. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2)  and methane (CH4) all reached new highs in concentration, this despite an expected reduction due to COVID-19. Greenhouse gas levels are a major driver of climate change.

2. Ocean acidification has continued to increase steadily due to absorption of increased levels of CO2 endangering aquatic life and impacting on fisheries and coral reefs.

3. Global surface temperature. This was found to be around 1.2 C warmer than pre-industrial levels, with 2020 expected to be one of the three warmest years on record and the past decade, 2011-2020, the warmest ever recorded.

4.Extreme weather events. (Floods, fires, droughts, heat waves and severe storms) Rising global temperatures have contributed to increased and more intense extreme weather events around the world.

5.Ocean heat content. Data indicates that ocean warming rates show a particularly strong increase in the past two decades and across all depths with a significant impact on marine life.

6. Sea level rise. Global sea level continues to rise, reaching a peak in 2020. At the current rate sea levels are expected to rise between 0.3-18 m by the end of the century impacting 600 million people worldwide who live in coastal areas and with salt-water contaminating drinking water supplies.

7 Glacial mass. Ice sheets around the world continue to lose mass. An estimated 152 000 000 000 tonnes of ice were lost between Sep 2019 and Aug 2020.

In the face of this information one is tempted to despair, however there is still time to avert the worst of the looming catastrophe if governments take action.  Some signs of hope can be found in the commitments made by States in the recent Climate Ambition Summit marking the 5th anniversary of the Paris climate accord. News that the USA will rejoin the Paris agreement under President-elect biden was welcomed, but absent from the event were major economies such as Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Most of whom have offered no significant improvements on their existing emissions targets recently.

Those of us who live in a functioning democracy can send a message to our parliamentary representatives urging them to action and fulfil their commitments and we can support campaigns organised by groups such as Avaaz and 350.org

Pope Francis Calls for Renewed Commitment to Human Rights and Solidarity

Pope Francis signs ‘Fratelli Tutti’ in Assisi on Oct 4th

In his recently released encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (‘All Brothers), Pope Francis has addressed a range of current global issues. He expresses concern that ‘the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia.’ #30

The Pope argues for ‘a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good’ #154 an end to ‘an individualistic and uncritical culture subservient to unregulated economic interests and societal institutions at the service of those who already enjoy too much power’ , #166 to ‘financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit’ #168 and for a politics which is far-sighted rather than focused on short.term political advantage.

He calls for a renewed commitment to the ideals of the United Nations and reforms to equip it ‘with the power to provide for the global common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defence of fundamental human rights’ #172

He praises the contribution of civil society groups for their role in ‘integrating and complementing the activity of the state’ noting that they ‘carry out commendable efforts in the service of the common good …. revealing something of the grandeur of which our humanity is still capable.’ #175

He stresses kindness, love, forgiveness and a ‘culture of encounter capable of transcending our differences and divisions’ while condemning ‘consumerist individualism’, increasing inequality that ‘gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society’. ‘#142 He also laments the ‘hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others’, which ‘has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices’. #44

In the final chapter of the encyclical Pope Francis speaks of the essential role that the religions of the world should play in fostering universal fraternity and calls for grater collaboration among religions urging believers ‘to speak with one another and to act together for the common good and the promotion of the poor.’ #282

A short summary of the encyclical can be found here

ERI Activity During 45th UN Human Rights Council Session

ERI delivered five oral statements during the recently concluded session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The statements were prepared by our advocacy networks in each of the countries concerned.

Statements were read in relation to the need to address:
– the impact of the illegal drug trade on indigenous youth in India and
– attacks on indigenous human rights defenders in Peru.

Statements were also made regarding the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Reviews of
Kiribati and
which took place earlier this year.

ERI Webinars: Edmund the Advocate

One of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a proliferation of online meetings and webinars. ERI has had to cancel its regular Geneva training courses and as a result we have become more active online. Recently in co-operation with PRATYeK in India ERI organised a series of four webinars on the theme Edmund the AdvocateRemembering Edmund Rice, the advocate for human rights and social justice, in the context of the challenges facing our world today.

The following article was provided by Ms Grace David in India.

“Two webinars were held on the 27th of August and were scheduled for two different regions keeping in mind their time zones. The first webinar was for the region of Oceania. The Keynote Speaker of the day was Denis McLaughlin who in his detailed and brilliant historical sketch of the life of Edmund highlighted some astounding details of his life. What struck most of the participants was the role of women especially his wife, Mary Rice and his sister in gradually leading him to become a fearless advocate for the rights of the oppressed.

The four panelists for the day were – Judith Hurley, Biong Biong, Kylie Kuppe and Sean Cleary. All four of them outlined the wonderful initiatives in the fields of justice education, community outreach, immersion progammes and advocacy that are being led by the Edmund Rice network in their region on various levels, particularly in regard to the urgent global issue of care for creation, asylum seekers and first Australians.

Click here for a link to the Oceania webinar

The second webinar of the day focused on the justice and advocacy work being carried out in the regions of Europe and Africa. The Keynote Speaker of the day was Aiden Donaldson who in his outline of the life of Edmund presented an exposé on the stances of Edmund for those exposed to the brutalities of oppressive systems of the day. The five panelists of the day were – Jessica Dewhurst, Kevin Mascarenhas fpm, Cyprian Omoding, Tom Murray and Cormac McArt. This passionate group outlined their advocacy work and grassroots activism with vulnerable communities of African young people, with the homeless and refugees in Ireland and with student groups through training, immersion programmes and classroom modules in Belfast and other parts of Europe.

Click here for a link to the Europe/Africa webinar

The third webinar was held on the 28th of August and focused on the regions of North and South America. The Keynote Speaker of the day was Br. Raymond Vercruysse. He presented a vivid sketch of advocacy in Edmund’s life through an array of insightful quotes and historical details. The panelists for the webinar were Sean D’Alfonso, Mia Mirassou, Paola Miranda and Br. Stephen Casey. Their talks presented a panoramic view of the advocacy and human rights work being done in the Americas especially in campus ministry, designing advocacy programmes for students, direct advocacy as the Regional Advocacy Coordinator for Latin America, Prison Ministry and various other novel initiatives to reach out to the marginalized and underprivileged sections of their societies.

Click here for a link to the Americas webinar

The final webinar on the 29th of August was for the region of India. The Keynote Speaker of the day was Br. Vinod Gabriel Thomas who presented the historical life-sketch of Edmund that clearly outlined Edmund’s stance for the rights of the poor around him. The panelists for the day were Steve Rocha, Sunil Britto, Philip Pinto, Charles D’Souza and Neha Pradhan Arora. Their talks covered the wide range of advocacy and justice work carried on by the Christian Brothers in India through their school networks, the PRATYeK NGO, Journeying Together communities in Meghalaya and Zambia, and the various other centers of social action and community life. This webinar, which had more than 400 participants from around the world, set the tone for more imaginative and collaborative initiatives in the future. Moreover it highlighted the prerequisite of all our works for advocacy and justice – a deep spirituality of connection and compassionate awareness.

Click here for a link to the India webinar

In conclusion one can truly say that these webinars have paved the way for a new way of learning and sharing, not only for those working on the frontlines or on grassroots levels but also for the larger Edmund Rice network across the globe. It is an invitation for all to join in the mission of our Blessed Founder in the urgent work of promoting human rights and advocating for social justice.  These webinars helped to spread awareness about the legacy of our Founder and also the new consciousness and skill sets needed for our times which can play a crucial role in the coming days for all who envision working for transforming the unjust structures of our world.”

Study Raises Concerns About Religious Discrimination

While many assume the liberal democracies of the West are the strongest bastions of religious freedom in the world, the evidence simply does not support this claim according to a recent international study carried out by Professor Jonathon Fox of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

Fox bases his conclusions on a data set recording the treatment of 771 religious minorities in 183 countries between 1990 and 2014 which distinguished 35 types of government-based religious discrimination. These include restrictions on the construction of religious buildings, controls on religious literature and prohibitions on chaplaincy services in prisons.

He found that in 162 countries, government-based religious discrimination was perpetrated against 574 of the minorities at some point during the study period and that this type of government discrimination increased globally by almost 25% over the study period.

The study also found that religious minorities of all kinds are subjected to socially-based religious discrimination such as discrimination in employment, vandalism of places of worship, harassment on public transport and outright violence in particular countries. The prevalence of social discrimination increased globally by almost 30% during the period of the study whilst disturbingly direct violence increased by more than 50%.

In Western democracies, fear of Islamic terrorism and anti-semitism underlined the discrimination directed at Jewish and Muslim minorities. However secularist policies also increasingly being adopted by Western governments place religious believers under mounting restrictions and regulations, such as controls on religious dress or restrictions on religious speech.

The report also identifies the type of states likely to engage in religious discrimination. Whilst Muslim-majority states on average engage in the highest levels of government-based religious discrimination, there is also a wide diversity. There is a cluster of Muslim-majority states in West Africa that are among the most tolerant in the world.

Christian Orthodox-majority states are the second most likely type of state to engage in government-based religious discrimination. Catholic and Protestant-majority states are much less likely to do so

Some secular states are relatively neutral and tolerant towards religion. But others are anti-religious and have a tendency to restrict religious expression, sometimes very repressively.

Many democratic states with officially neutral religious policies may still be influenced by secularist ideologies. This is more evident in secular Western democracies than in many of their Asian, African and Latin American counterparts

ERI Statements During 44th Human Rights Council Session

ERI was active during the recent 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Oral statements were delivered on:-
trafficking in persons with particular attention to the situation in India;
the right to education in India;
the right to health in Australia, with particular reference to its first peoples, asylum seekers and the impact of climate change on health;
discrimination against women a joint statement with one of our partners, again with a particular focus on India; 
violence against women in Peru;
violence against women in India a joint statement with partners and
extrajudicial killings in India.

In addition, in collaboration with the Justice Desk, a joint written statement on Gender-Based Violence in South Africa was submitted to the Human Rights Council.

Edmund Rice Schools in North America Called to Respond to Racial Injustice

As protests and rioting erupted across the United States in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Christian Brother Provincial Br Kevin Griffith addressed a letter to members of the Edmund Rice Network.

Less than a year ago Br Griffith wrote a similar letter calling for the promotion of healing and reconciliation rather than hatred and division and calling for the rights and dignity of every person to be respected.

The most recent letter acknowledges that little has changed in American society since then with violence against people of color continuing across the nation. It goes on to state that a point has been reached where it is necessary to stand up and be heard on this issue.

Recalling the essential elements of an Edmund Rice Christian Brother Education Br Griffith writes ‘Today, I am calling on all Edmund Rice Christian Brother schools in the United States to intensify efforts at promoting racial justice, at condemning racial injustice and at advocating for a just society that respects the innate dignity of all God’s children, especially people of color.’

He has also requested Province Advocacy Co-ordinator Sean D’Alfonsoto collaborate with the Office of Educational Services to develop a series of educational lessons for use in schools that will encourage students in their role in creating a more just society

Edmund Rice Network Activity Continues Around the World

The current Corona virus crisis has shifted the focus of activity within the Edmund Rice Network around the globe.

In India Br Steve Rocha and Anisha George report that Pratyek is reaching out to vulnerable families. By the end of March 350 families  in New Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, UP, West Bengal, and Assam had been provided with soap, detergent and rations for up to 10 days. Families with disabilities are being especially targetted. The aim is to raise funds to reach 4000 groups or families through the national children’s parliaments.

Regular counselling sessions, remedial classes and advocacy sessions are continuing online for young leaders.

In South Africa, ERI Advocacy Co-ordinator Jessica Dewhurst reports that on the 26th March, South Africa went into a 21 day lockdown.

Pre-lockdown the Justice Desk coordinated the delivery of vital medication, face masks and food parcels to marginalised families in townships.

Two staff are now in full quarantine, having possibly come into contact with people with COVID-19. Some remaining staff are working from home during the lockdown. Management is coordinating the packing and delivering of 9000 food packages each week to children and vulnerable families during the lockdown.

All other Justice Desk trainings and education  sessions have been moved online with trainings now delivered via Zoom. Community empowerment workshops for the next 3 months have been pre-filmed and are being sent via WhatsApp to community members each week. Two staff are identifying women and children kept with their abusers during lockdown and working alongside partner organisations to have them rescued and taken to safe-centres.

From New York, ERI Advocacy co-ordinator Sean D’Alfonso reports that whilst schools are closed students, families and alumni from various schools have been involved in collecting, donating and creating supplies to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. An alumnus from a school in Michigan is creating supplies himself. Many of these supplies have been delivered to local hospitals struggling to keep up.

Many schools are working on putting together donation drives to support families who have lost jobs during the crisis, as well as collection drives to support food banks and shelters that have struggled with supplies.    Senior students from Iona Prep have been presenting their advocacy projects and websites through video conferences. An example of one of the projects on statelessness in Dominica can be viewed here.

In Kenya, ERI Advocacy Co-ordinator Johnstone Shisanya reports that the work of the Edmund Rice Advocacy Network (ERAN) is on hold as its projects with communities and schools all rely on bringing people together for capacity building. However what ERAN has  done since the first case was reported was to work a partner organisation Radio Domus FM which covers a 25 km range, to explain the nature of the Corona virus and the safety measures to take. During the program people called in with questions and information was provided especially for those who could not access updates via TV or Smart phone,  including sharing the Government toll free number if someone feels unwell.