Under cover of racist myth, a new land grab in Australia

From The Guardian

Its banks secured in the warmth of the southern spring, Australia is not news. It ought to be. An epic scandal of racism, injustice and brutality is being covered up in the manner of apartheid South Africa. Many Australians conspire in this silence, wishing never to reflect upon the truth about their society's Untermenschen, the Aboriginal people. 

The facts are not in dispute: thousands of black Australians never reach the age of 40; an entirely preventable disease, trachoma, blinds black children as epidemics of rheumatic fever ravage their communities; suicide among the despairing young is common. No other developed country has such a record. A pervasive white myth, that Aborigines leech off the state, serves to conceal the disgrace that money the federal government says it spends on indigenous affairs actually goes towards opposing native land rights. In 2006, some A$3bn was underspent "or the result of creative accounting", reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Like the children of apartheid, the Aboriginal children of Thamarrurr in the Northern Territory receive less than half the educational resources allotted to white children.

In 2005, the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination described the racism of the Australian state, a distinction afforded no other developed country. This was in the decade-long rule of the conservative coalition of John Howard, whose coterie of white supremacist academics and journalists assaulted the truth of recorded genocide in Australia, especially the horrific separations of Aboriginal children from their families. They deployed arguments not dissimilar to those David Irving used to promote Holocaust denial.

Smear by media as a precursor to the latest round of repression is long familiar to black Australians. In 2006, the flagship current affairs programme of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Lateline, broadcast lurid allegations of "sex slavery" among the Mutitjulu people in the Northern Territory. The programme's source, described as an "anonymous youth worker", was later exposed as a federal government official whose "evidence" was discredited by the Northern Territory chief minister and the police. 

The ABC has never retracted its allegations, claiming it has been "exonerated by an internal inquiry". Shortly before last year's election, Howard declared a "national emergency" and sent the army to the Northern Territory to "protect the children" who, said his minister for indigenous affairs, were being abused in "unthinkable numbers".

Last February, with much sentimental fanfare, the new prime minister, Labor's Kevin Rudd, made a formal apology to the first Australians. Australia was said to be finally coming to terms with its rapacious past and present. Was it? "The Rudd government," noted a Sydney Morning Herald editorial, "has moved quickly to clear away this piece of political wreckage in a way that responds to some of its own supporters' emotional needs, yet it changes nothing. It is a shrewd manoeuvre."

In May, barely reported government statistics revealed that of the 7,433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors as part of the "national emergency", 39 had been referred to the authorities for suspected abuse. Of those, a maximum of just four possible cases of abuse were identified. Such were the "unthinkable numbers". They were little different from those of child abuse in white Australia. What was different was that no soldiers invaded the beachside suburbs, no white parents were swept aside, no white welfare was "quarantined". Marion Scrymgour, an Aboriginal minister in the Northern Territory, said: "To see decent, caring [Aboriginal] fathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers, who are undoubtedly innocent of the horrific charges being bandied about, reduced to helplessness and tears, speaks to me of widespread social damage."

What the doctors found they already knew - children at risk from a spectrum of extreme poverty and the denial of resources in one of the world's richest countries. Having let a few crumbs fall, Rudd is picking up where Howard left off. His indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, has threatened to withdraw government support from remote communities that are "economically unviable". The Northern Territory is the only region where Aborigines have comprehensive land rights, granted almost by accident 30 years ago. Here lie some of the world's biggest uranium deposits. Canberra wants to mine and sell it. 

Foreign governments, especially the US, want the Northern Territory as a toxic dump. The Adelaide to Darwin railway that runs adjacent to Olympic Dam, the world's largest uranium mine, was built with the help of Kellogg, Brown & Root - a subsidiary of American giant Halliburton, the alma mater of Dick Cheney, Howard's "mate". "The land grab of Aboriginal tribal land has nothing to do with child sexual abuse," says the Australian scientist Helen Caldicott, "but all to do with open slather uranium mining and converting the Northern Territory to a global nuclear dump." 

What is unique about Australia is not its sun-baked, derivative society, clinging to the sea, but its first people, the oldest on earth, whose skill and courage in surviving invasion, of which the current onslaught is merely the latest, deserve humanity's support.


An Open Letter to the British Foreign Secretary

by Sean Carey 

Dear Mr Milband 

I notice that you have been involved in a diplomatic wrangle with the Israeli government about the export of avocados, herbs and cosmetically enhancing Dead Sea mud from Jewish settlements in the West Bank which the UK considers illegal under international law.

You will have been well prepared for this when you went to the Middle East this week.

What you may not have anticipated, however, was the argument put forward by Michael Freund writing in the Jerusalem Post accusing you and Gordon Brown of "barefaced hypocrisy" for trying to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands while doing next to nothing for the exiled Chagos islanders.

Last month the law lords decided by a majority verdict to endorse your appeal and block the islanders’ right of return to their Indian Ocean homeland. You then issued a statement saying that the islanders had been paid "fair compensation".

I cannot agree.

As you know the islanders were forced out of their homeland by a variety of methods including the threat of starvation between 1968 and 1973 to make way for the US military base on Diego Garcia. Most were dumped in Mauritius and some in the Seychelles. All of them were left to fend for themselves.

And it is revealing that Diego Garcia was chosen instead of another suitable Indian Ocean atoll, Aldabra, because of concerns about the fate of the Giant Land Tortoise and nesting seabirds which lived there. The obvious conclusion is that the descendants of former slaves ranked below wildlife in their claim to a homeland.

But the results of the forced removal, the loss of their culture and their position at the bottom of the social pyramid in Mauritius were entirely predictable -- high levels of unemployment and a significant amount of alcohol and drug misuse leading to poor health and premature death for a significant number of the 2000 or so islanders.

And can I remind you that it was only when details of what happened to the islanders started to emerge after a US Congressional Committee hearing in 1975 that the then British government was shamed into offering the islanders any kind of financial help. Each adult received a little over £2000 in 1982 in "full and final settlement of all claims… with no admission of responsibility".

I don’t think that this is a lot of money even in today’s terms. In fact, I would go further and say that no amount of money could compensate the Chagossians for what they have been through.

Since 2000, seven senior British judges unanimously found in favour of the islanders right of return and variously found the government's case "irrational", "repugnant",  "unlawful" and "an abuse of power".

Unfortunately, for the islanders three of the five law lords did not agree with the judgements from the lower courts. We can only speculate as to what the result might have been had a different panel of legal personnel been selected.

Nevertheless, some simple arithmetic reveals that nine senior judges have found for the islanders and only three against.

So your government has won a narrow legal victory but I'm not convinced that it is a fair result. I am not alone. 

Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee which includes senior parliamentarians like Sir Menzies Campbell, Andrew Mackinlay and Sir John Stanley recently stated that "there is a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to the British Indian Ocean Territory for the Chagossians".

Certainly the islanders don't show any signs of giving up – an appeal has been made to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The question of how the Chagos Islands, which had been an integral part of the colony of Mauritius since the Treaty of Paris in 1814, were excised before the island’s independence in 1968 in contravention of UN Resolution 1514 which states that all colonial peoples have the right to independence without preconditions is also relevant here.

For a variety of political and economic reasons successive Mauritian governments have been reluctant to press their territorial claim – but this might be about to change.

Perhaps it might be better for all concerned if you took seriously the suggestion of David Snoxell, the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, who has asked repeatedly for a round table discussion between Britain, the US, Mauritius and representatives of the Chagos communities in Mauritius and the Seychelles in order to find a solution to what he has called "one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by the UK in the 20th century".

I realise that dealing with the Bush administration has been difficult. It must have been very embarrassing for you to come before parliament earlier this year and admit that the UK had been misled by the US about the use of the military base on Diego Garcia for extraordinary rendition on two occasions.

Perhaps Barack Obama’s inauguration as US President in January will provide an opportunity to change current policy towards the Chagossians. Of course, I understand that the fate of a small number of politically powerless black British, Mauritian and Seychelles subjects living in exile a long way from the American mainland won’t be high on the new administration’s agenda but you could try and put it there.

In any case, this might be a smart PR move since it would demonstrate that the special relationship between Britain and the US doesn’t always have to have a narrow military focus but might, just occasionally, serve the purpose of a progressive and ethical foreign policy. It would certainly help in making your criticisms of the Israelis stick.

Who knows it might even help your political career.


Plight of the Unpeople

From the New Statesman

by John Pilger

Published 2008 November 27

I went to the Houses of Parliament on 22 October to join a disconsolate group of shivering people who had arrived from a faraway tropical place and were being prevented from entering the Public Gallery to hear their fate. This was not headline news; the BBC reporter seemed almost embarrassed. Crimes of such magnitude are not news when they are ours, and neither is injustice or corruption at the apex of British power.

Lizette Talatte was there, her tiny frail self swallowed by the cavernous stone grey of Westminster Hall. I first saw her in a Colonial Office film from the 1950s which described her homeland, the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, as a paradise long settled by people "born and brought up in conditions most tranquil and benign". Lizette was then 14 years old. She remembers the producer saying to her and her friends, "Keep smiling, girls!" When we met in Mauritius, four years ago, she said: "We didn't need to be told to smile. I was a happy child, because my roots were deep in Diego Garcia. My great-grandmother was born there, and I made six children there. Maybe only the English can make a film that showed we were an established community, then deny their own evidence and invent the lie that we were transient workers."

To Lord Hoffmann, “The right of abode is a creature of the law.” In other words, our rights are in the gift of political stooges

During the 1960s and 1970s British governments, Labour and Tory, tricked and expelled the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago, more than 2,000 British citizens, so that Diego Garcia could be given to the United States as the site for a military base. It was an act of mass kidnapping carried out in high secrecy. As unclassified official files now show, Foreign Office officials conspired to lie, coaching each other to "maintain" and "argue" the "fiction" that the Chagossians existed only as a "floating population". On 28 July 1965, a senior Foreign Office official, T C D Jerrom, wrote to the British representative at the United Nations, instructing him to lie to the General Assembly that the Chagos Archipelago was "uninhabited when the United Kingdom government first acquired it". Nine years later, the Ministry of Defence went further, lying that "there is nothing in our files about inhabitants [of the Chagos] or about an evacuation".

"To get us out of our homes," Lizette told me, "they spread rumours we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs. The American soldiers who had arrived to build the base backed several of their big vehicles against a brick shed, and hundreds of dogs were rounded up and imprisoned there, and they gassed them through a tube from the trucks' exhaust. You could hear them crying. Then they burned them on a pyre, many still alive."

Lizette and her family were finally forced on to a rusting freighter and made to lie on a cargo of bird fertiliser during a voyage, through stormy seas, to the slums of Port Louis, Mauritius. Within months, she had lost Jollice, aged eight, and Regis, aged ten months. "They died of sadness," she said. "The eight-year-old had seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. The doctor said he could not treat sadness."

Since 2000, no fewer than nine high court judgments have described these British government actions as "illegal", "outrageous" and "repugnant". One ruling cited Magna Carta, which says no free man can be sent into exile. In desperation, the Blair government used the royal prerogative - the divine right of kings - to circumvent the courts and parliament and to ban the islanders from even visiting the Chagos. When this, too, was overturned by the high court, the government was rescued by the law lords, of whom a majority of one (three to two) found for the government in a scandalously inept, political manner. In the weasel, almost flippant words of Lord Hoffmann, "the right of abode is a creature of the law. The law gives it and the law takes it away." Forget Magna Carta. Human rights are in the gift of three stooges doing the dirty work of a government, itself lawless.

As the official files show, the Chagos conspiracy and cover-up involved three prime ministers and 13 cabinet ministers, including those who approved "the plan". But elite corruption is unspeakable in Britain. I know of no work of serious scholarship on this crime against humanity. The honourable exception is the work of the historian Mark Curtis, who describes the Chagossians as "unpeople".

The reason for this silence is ideological. Courtier commentators and media historians obstruct our view of the recent past, ensuring, as Harold Pinter pointed out in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, that while the "systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought" in Stalinist Russia were well known in the west, the great state crimes of western governments "have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented".

Typically, the pop historian Tristram Hunt writes in the Observer (23 November): "Nestling in the slipstream of American hegemony served us well in the 20th century. The bonds of culture, religion, language and ideology ensured Britain a postwar economic bailout, a nuclear deterrent and the continuing ability to 'punch above our weight' on the world stage. Thanks to US patronage, our story of decolonisation was for us a relatively painless affair . . ."

Not a word of this drivel hints at the transatlantic elite's Cold War paranoia, which put us all in mortal danger, or the rapacious Anglo-American wars that continue to claim untold lives. As part of the "bonds" that allow us to "punch above our weight", the US gave Britain a derisory $14m discount off the price of Polaris nuclear missiles in exchange for the Chagos Islands, whose "painless decolonisation" was etched on Lizette Talatte's face the other day. Never forget, Lord Hoffmann, that she, too, will die of sadness.