Genocide continues even as Australia marks ‘Sorry Day’

Juukan Gorge before it was blasted by Rio Tinto.

What should be, by now, common knowledge has become far removed from the minds of the average Australian. Countless emotional scars are worn by many First Nations people, while new wounds are inflicted because of intentional disregard for the lives and culture of one of the oldest civilisations on Earth.

The recent destruction of major cultural heritage site Juukan Gorge in Western Australia was undertaken in the name of Rio Tinto shareholders' profit.

This outcrop of rock shelters was home to Aboriginal people from as early as 46,000 years ago, and are a source of great cultural significance to this day.

Within these shelters, artifacts had been uncovered, including: a 28,000-year-old bone tool, along with pound and grinding stones and a belt made from platted hair, that is believed to be 4000 years old and linked to Traditional Owners.

Yet on May 24, mining giant Rio Tinto began blasting the area for iron ore, destroying significant parts of the Juukan Gorge cultural heritage site.

This act alone is atrocious, but the complicity of state and federal governments shows they have no regard for more than what has lined their pockets.

To add insult to injury it took place just before national Sorry Day, the official day to recognise and remember the mistreatment faced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from their homes, known as “The Stolen Generations”. 

From 1910, state and federal governments in Australia began systematically rounding up thousands of First Nations children. It is estimated that between 10% and 33% of all Indigenous children were separated from their families between 1910–70. They were placed in camps to undergo rape, educational conditioning and even murder in a blatant attempt to erase Aboriginal culture and communities.

Genocide had already been practised since the first European settlers got the scent of the land and other natural resources that could bring them riches. It was a policy of ethnic cleansing.

Even after the official end of the policy in 1970, that led to the Stolen Generations, it was replaced with other forms of repression: First Nations children continue to be removed from their families.

During the 2009 national apology to the Stolen Generations by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Peter Dutton, now Australia's Minister for Home Affairs, walked off the stage in the middle of Rudd’s speech in racist show of defiance.

Despite that official “sorry”, the genocide against First Nations people continues.

Australia is a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention for protection of Cultural Property, which states: “In the event of an armed conflict not of an international character occurring within the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the provisions of the present Convention which relate to respect for cultural property.”

Article 15 of the Hague Convention states that where “theft, pillage or misappropriation of, or act of vandalism directed against cultural property”, signatory states should “establish as criminal offences under its domestic law the offences set forth in the Article and to make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties”. 

Why are such blatant offences against cultural property allowed to continue unpunished?

Governments need to called to account.

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