UN Rapporteur agrees intervention is racist

September 7, 2009

The Socialist Alliance was one of many signatories to a letter presented to UN Human Rights Rapporteur James Anaya when he arrived in Australia on August 17. The letter said "special measures" taken under the Northern Territory Emergency Response — or intervention — were racist.

Michael Anderson, an Indigenous leader from the north-west of NSW, wrote in his submission to Anaya: "The recent 'Closing of the Gap' initiative is designed to win the hearts and minds of the Australian public whilst assimilation proceeds."

During Anaya's 11-day visit, he met government authorities and representatives of Indigenous communities and organisations.

Anaya received many submissions and travelled to Indigenous communities in remote and urban areas. He concluded that the NT intervention is racist.

Anaya's preliminary statement, released on August 27, said the intervention's policies such as compulsory income management, compulsory leases and community-wide bans on alcohol consumption and pornography "overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already stigmatised communities".

Anaya said explicitly that the intervention was "incompatible with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia has affirmed its support", and urged the government "to act swiftly to reinstate the protections of the Racial Discrimination Act in regard to the indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory".

Anaya found many examples of successful Indigenous programs that addressed social issues in culturally appropriate ways, and stressed the importance of continued funding for such programs.

But he also heard of many instances of government programs failing to consider already existing local programs, thus duplicating or replacing them and undermining Indigenous-controlled institutions.

This contravenes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which guarantees "the right of Indigenous peoples to participate fully … at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights".

The Socialist Alliance has always called for self-determination and Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs.

In contrast, Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin joined politicians from both sides of politics in rejecting Anaya's findings, although she lauded him as "one of the world's leading human rights advocates and legal scholars" on August 17.

As Anderson wrote: "Australia is a colonial country that has mastered the art of deceiving the eye. The words and actions of government appear on the surface to be honourable but scratch the surface and you will see institutional racism personified."

Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Ampilatwatja community walk-off protesting against the intervention, slammed Aboriginal leader and former ALP president Warren Mundine in an open letter for rejecting Anaya's report. He called on Mundine to "get out of his air-conditioned office" and "visit the people on the ground".

The Socialist Alliance calls on the Rudd government to accept Anaya's report; to immediately reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act; to end the intervention and any "land for housing" deals; and to provide adequate funding and support services to all Aboriginal communities, in particular homelands and remote communities.

We will continue to stand in solidarity with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters and support their struggle for land, justice and liberation

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