Recently I came to a new understanding of culpability through a single statement on the Holocaust of the Jews in World War II.
This statement – that those at the coal face of the concentration camps held no culpability for their actions towards Jews in the camps, whereas those furthest away held the greatest responsibility – provides an answer to the question of conditions on Manus Island and Nauru, as well as the atrocities of Indonesian and Chinese soldiers.
As the Milgram Project found in the 1960s, people will act against their own judgment, ethical and moral beliefs if they are ordered to do so.
Tony Abbott carries the same weight of responsibility for what is happening in detention centres and for First Peoples in Australia as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in West Papua, Benjamin Netanyahu in Palestine and Xi Jinping in Taiwan and Tibet. Each of them is carrying out atrocities-by-distance on people of nationalities not their own, via agents down respective chains of command.
This raises the question of what can be done about the power these men wield.
One of the most recent examples of the disruption of power came via the efforts of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the African National Congress and the rest of the world as we worked together to rid ourselves of the apartheid regime of South Africa. This was a unified effort that began in the ghettos of Johannesburg and spread throughout the world.
I have come to the conclusion that it is time for another unified fight against the injustices that our governments perpetrate, through their citizens, against the people of other Sovereign nations, or against those who seek our help and asylum.
It is time for a fight against a “New Apartheid” sweeping the globe.
Let me point out some of the markers of an apartheid regime.
First, there is censorship. In every case mentioned above, governments are censoring information to which their citizens should have access. You can travel to Tibet, but you can only travel with recognised “tour guides” who won’t show you the destruction of the panda habitat, the oppression of the Tibetan people or the mass of military presence in Tibet to quell protests of the Free Tibet Movement and to pour water on the self-immolators.
In terms of West Papua, journalists are not allowed to travel there at all. Since 1969, when Indonesian soldiers marched into the mountains and brought to Jayapura 1,025 “hand-picked” men to vote, publicly and under threat of death, for the ceding of West Papua’s sovereignty to Indonesia, Free West Papua and the GKI (Evangelical Christian Church of West Papua) have fought to regain a sovereignty that was never rightfully Indonesia’s.
Closer to home again, the Australian Government will not allow journalists into the Manus Island and Nauru Detention Centres. They have threatened agents of organisations such as Amnesty and the UNHCR that their reports should not contain criticism of the Australian Government, their policies or the implementation of those policies on the ground. This is pure and simple censorship; it is an abuse of power that seeks to control the flow of information to the Australian public, and is one of the most basic tools of the authoritarian who craves power.
Violence is another of the markers of apartheid regimes. In Tibet, Taiwan, Palestine and West Papua, government agents, often in military uniforms (and, in the case of the Indonesian Special Forces, trained by the Australian Military, at the expense of the Australian Taxpayer) carry out violence against those who speak out for freedom. Guns are used against flags, face paint and rocks. People are kidnapped, tortured and killed. Families live in fear for their lives, and for the lives of their loved ones, who vanish without trace.
In Australia, agents of our government cage pregnant women, children and peaceful men in inhuman conditions. They have limited access to fresh water, food and hygiene facilities. According to recent reports, the supervisor of the gaol on Manus Island is a former military officer from Sri Lanka – some thirty of those held on Manus are Tamil people who have fled Sri Lanka to escape persecution. Out of the frying pan into the fire it would seem.
In addition, successive Australian governments are responsible for the continued oppression of the First Peoples of this land. The latest force against them is the withdrawal of $13 million of specialised Aboriginal Legal Aid funding and the donation of $2.2 million to mining companies to support their court battles against Native Title applications. This withdrawal of funding will see more First Peoples incarcerated under a system that already sees them over-represented. Many more First Peoples will be locked away. More families will be torn apart and more deaths will happen in custody. This government doesn’t care. More prisons will open. They will be put out to tender, to be run, at arm’s-length, by private corporations whose interests lie not in the rehabilitation of prisoners, but rather in their continued incarceration – as private corporations, surely their interest is to keep these facilities full as more prisoners equates to greater profit and return to investors.
What I propose is this: an international campaign against countries involved in such activity via a variety of policies that might include: sporting teams of such countries being prohibited from competing in international events, or companies that support the governments of these countries facing strict financial penalties and sanctions, just to name a few.
The respective governments of countries involved in this “New Apartheid” must change their ways or potentially face a tide of protest running against them the likes of which they have never witnessed.