BY NICK FREDMAN
COOLUM — "Wouldn't it be fantastic if the police went over to the Hyatt and arrested the people who are the real criminals — who are responsible for injustice around the world?", human rights activist Ross Daniels asked the crowd protesting outside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here on March 2.
According to Daniels, three individuals in particular should be arrested: Queen Elizabeth II, for living off the ill-gotten gains of the British empire; British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for contributing to the deaths of 5000-6000 Afghan civilians; and Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, for lying, and for subjecting asylum seekers to degrading treatment in contravention of international law.
The 400 protesters denounced both the crimes of particular Commonwealth governments — notably Australia's treatment of refugees — and the role of CHOGM as an institution of international capitalism. The rally was organised by the Brisbane-based CHOGM Action Alliance, and around 60 people travelled up from northern NSW representing refugee action collectives in Lismore and Byron Bay and the Nimbin Peace Bus.
Despite difficulties — heavy rain, the inaccessible location of the meeting and the constriction of the rally to two small areas by a heavy police presence — protestors made a colourful statement. A giant replica nuclear missile was supplied by Everyone for a Nuclear Free Future (EnuFF), and a host of banners and placards were brought by peace, refugee rights, environmental and left-wing groups, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and individual demonstrators.
The rally kicked off with a song and dance performance that mourned the two million casualties of Sudan's civil war. Sudanese activist Peter Okello demanded that the Commonwealth pressure the Sudanese government to negotiate with rebel forces.
Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett denounced the Howard government's refugee policy and argued that "the tragedy is not just that desperate people are made to suffer purely for political purposes but also other countries are being encouraged to go down the same path". The need to overturn temporary protection visas and the "Pacific solution" was taken up by Bernie Wunsch from the Lismore Refugee Action Collective and Simon Butler from Resistance.
Bill Fleming, of the AMWU Retired Members Association and an activist in that union for nearly 60 years, was cheered as he demanded that CHOGM "question the role of the World Trade Organisation and what it's doing to the workers of the world"
Participants were urged to help build upcoming events such as International Women's Day, Palm Sunday rallies, and M1 actions against corporate globalisation, before many attended an action demanding cancellation of Third World debt organised by Jubilee.
From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.
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