HRAFF 2016 Picks

Drone | Tonje Hessen Schei

Imaging living under the threat of being killed by an unmanned aircraft at any moment. This is the reality of villagers living in Pakistan or Yemen who face extrajudicial killings from the United States, whose use of drones is highly questionable in the continued War on Terror. While the hunt for Al-Qaeda continues, it is the unarmed citizens that face indiscriminate maiming and death.

Tonje Hessen Schei’s Drone is a highly controversial documentary that features interviews with former drone operators, heads of defence, dissidents and concerned citizens who have been involved in one way or another in the drone war occurring across Pakistan. It tells the story of how the United States Government wages a war from the sky; a war that involves young, indoctrinated military men pressing the trigger and blowing up civilians under the guise of protecting US interests. A drone manufacturer in the film remarks that “war is the opportunity to undertake business” and Schei does well to illustrate this point;

drone warfare is both a business opportunity as it is a merchant of death.

Drone also discusses the phenomenon of ‘Militainment’ – where the world of military games meets military intent. Scarily, the US military is described as having invested in creating games that are used for recruitment tools. In this sense, the film illustrates how drone warfare becomes a normalised activity where emotion and humanity is stripped from those pressing the trigger and where, because the activity looks like a computer game, the media becomes used to seeing images on television of drone attacks against ‘militants’.

Drone is a must see film for those interested in the future of warfare, as well as human rights activity in a world with increasing electronic and unmanned warfare.

Drone screens on 8 May in Melbourne.

View the trailer:

Dreaming of Denmark | Michael Graversen

The media reports that thousands of children arrive on European shores as unaccompanied minors, although little is known or reported about what happens once they arrive. Michael Graversen’s Dreaming of Denmark follows the story of Afghani Wasiullah, who came to Denmark as an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum.

Wasiullah is an 18-year-old with a failed asylum bid who absconds to a new life in Italy, hearing that it is easier to obtain official status there than in Denmark, where he has been staying in a centre for the past three years.

The film personalises the plight of young refugees, seeking acceptance in their adopted homelands much the same way that young teenagers want to be accepted by their respective peers.

From sleeping rough to trying to fit in in a refugee centre, it sheds light on a seemingly forgotten demographic in the refugee debate. In this sense, Wasiullah is at once fragile as he is strong, he is both representative of the child refugee seeking asylum as a scared minor, as well as the young adult seeking his own way in a new land – one that has at times rejected him as well as embraced him.

Dreaming of Denmark is of interest to those whom has wondered what happens to those children who seek asylum in countries as unaccompanied minors – does their adoptive country embrace or dispel them?

Dreaming of Denmark screens on 7 May in Melbourne.

View the trailer:

Originally published at Right Now: HRAFF 2016 Film Picks

The Collapse of Counter-Terrorism – Book Review

Blood-Year

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror | David Kilcullen | Black Inc.

As the Islamic State claims responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium, David Kilcullen’s bookBlood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is essential reading that charts how this terrorist group –once believed to be a minor threat – spread from Iraq through to Europe and beyond, with gruesome consequences for all it comes into contact with.

Kilcullen’s critique of the lack of a competent strategy to defeat ISIS (as well as other terrorist branches) is honest as it is confronting. As part of the team that devised the post-9/11 strategy to deal with Al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, Kilcullen notes that their apparent failure to take into account the rise and expansion of ISIS across strategic states as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria has had disastrous consequences that have been felt most recently through the realisation of attacks in the heart of Europe.

The author is well placed to write a book on the rise of the Islamic State, with an impressive resume that includes being an Australian Army soldier, a civilian intelligence officer, and a United States government employee who served the Bush administration during the War on Terror and the Obama administration afterward.

… the terrorist threat that the War on Terror sought to quash is stronger, has access to a wider tactical network, and is more motivated to jihadism than ever before.

As a specialist in counter-terrorism, Kilcullen’s careful observations on policy and political campaigns, and their subsequent onground effect make for compelling reading – characterising some of the failures of 2014 to 2016 as “nothing less than the collapse of Western counter-terrorism strategy as we’ve known it since 2001”. The book underlines the fact that the terrorist threat that the War on Terror sought to quash is stronger, has access to a wider tactical network, and is more motivated to jihadism than ever before.

Kilcullen makes it very clear from the outset that his observations in Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror are driven from his personal experience as a key player in the theatre of war and the development and implementation of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy in the US and Australia.

That aside, his writing is backed up by comprehensive references that enable the reader to delve deeper into issues and situations if they so wish. From the fall of Mosul to the push by Russian and Syrian forces into Aleppo and surrounding villages, the book offers unique insight into the operations of ISIS as well as the State actors – such as the United States, France and Australia – attempting to deal with ISIS’s violent activities and threats.

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is a gripping read that will help readers make sense of how ISIS has arguably become the number one global terrorist threat.

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is now available from Black Inc.

Originally published at Right Now: The Collapse of Counter-Terrorism

The Coal Face, book review.

Originally published at Right Now : Human Rights in Australia

2015.02.08

Book review by Samaya Borom

The Coal Face | Penguin Books Australia

On 9 February 2014, a fire started at the Hazelwood coal mine and would continue to burn almost unfettered for nearly two months. During this time, the residents of Morwell and the greater LaTrobe Valley breathed in the toxic smoke and went about their daily business, taking direction from the Department of Health who assured residents of the non-toxicity of the coal mine ash.

The Hazelwood mine fire – one of Australia’s greatest environmental and public health disasters – was completely avoidable, writes Tom Doig in his book The Coal Face. Doig interviews local residents who provide firsthand accounts of the disaster, which because of the time it was left burning, was to have catastrophic consequences on their future health and wellbeing.

Through Doig’s account, it becomes increasingly clear that the fire was able to occur due to what could be referred to as political interest in the region. Hazelwood Mine was a substantial employer in the LaTrobe Valley and in the years and months leading up to the disaster, the promise of economic stability often overruled environmental and public safety concerns.

Doig provides many examples of this, from the privatisation of the mine under the Kennett government when it was to be decommissioned, to the approval of a planning permit that allowed GDF Suez, the owner of the mine, to expand into an area close to eucalypt trees – well known for being highly combustible.

Had the book not been based on real events, it could have almost been labelled a absurd step-by-step case study of what not to do in an environmental disaster; the fact that a mine operated in such close proximity to a town without adequate fire prevention methods in place, or indeed working water pipes, is astounding.

The lack of initial media reportage, or interest in the mine fire outside of the immediate area is also curious. It spurned a grassroots political movement to ensure reporting of the disaster was not further censored by political pressure during an election year. Doig expertly captures the community voice, and in doing so, presents a very real representation of a disaster of mass proportions.

An initial inquiry into the fire was opened on 11 March 2014 by then Premier Napthine, with the final report launching at the Morwell Bowls Club. Doig points out that locals believed it was not exhaustive enough and campaigned to have the inquiry reopened on the basis of new community data that pointed to a spike in deaths around the time of the disaster.

On 25 May 2015, the Hazelwood Mine Fire Enquiry was re-opened with the board of enquiry being lead by the Honorable Bernard Teague. The terms of reference include looking into short, medium and long-term health implications of the mine fire as well as whether rehabilitation options are viable.

The Coal Face is crucial reading for those interested in an analysis of the decades of irresponsible decision-making that culminated in the disaster, as well as a complete rundown of the mismanaged fire, that has now earned the moniker of one of Australia’s greatest environmental disasters.

The Coal Face is available from Penguin Books Australia.

Human rights off the table?

Street scene in Beijing

Street scene in Beijing

This article was originally published at G20 Watch

Given that the G20 is being billed as the most significant leadership meeting that Australia has ever hosted and will ‘address the global growth challenge in an ambitious and meaningful way” we need to ask where the discussion on human rights is taking place.

Should we be worried that there appears to be a distinct lack of reference to human rights at the biggest meeting of world leaders? Does it really matter if human rights are not discussed openly, if at all, in reference to global economic growth?

In a word, yes, because the absence of discussion that takes into account human rights obligations and responsibilities means that the Summit may make recommendations that are counter-intuitive to current human rights instruments.

Take for example The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)which focuses on socio-economic rights and responsibilities such as labour rights, access to education, standards of living and the right to health.  All G20 members have ratified the Covenant except for the US, Saudi Arabia and the EU (France and Germany have ratified the Covenant).

Under Article 6 of the Covenant, State Parties recognise the right to work in an occupation of choice and must take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. This can include ensuring that there are technical or educational frameworks in place as well as ensuring that the State creates specific policies or legislation to realise such a right.

It is encouraging that one of the main focus’ of the Summit will be expanding the paid workforce, especially to boost the participation of women and young people. However, this aim needs to be backed up with concrete plans on how to make it happen, especially in contexts where young people are not able to access proper education and women still face discrimination in the workforce and spend a lot of time caring for children and elderly relatives.

In line with creating new growth in the workforce, the G20 needs to reform current tax and business practices. Under the ‘growth and development stream’, G20 participants will examine tax and banking reform and has, as one of its aims, already suggested a digital approach to the tax and banking environment by digitising payments.

How would a move towards a digital tax and banking system impact upon the ability of a citizen to participate in business when the barrier to access such infrastructure is high?

Arguably, the Summit needs to consider how a global move to digital services will impact upon the day-to-day business of micro-economies in areas such as Africa or Asia where small and medium enterprises (SMEs) deal in small cash transactions and where access to digital infrastructure is minimal and/or prohibitively expensive.

There should be frank and open discussion about the importance of human rights because global growth does not occur in a vacuum. Yet the G20 will not explicitly address human rights. A desktop review of the G20 website, as well as policy papers and working group outputs arguably illustrates a distinct lack of independent research or discussion around human rights and the effect the role that the G20 can or could play in safeguarding or expanding such rights.

How can human rights be heard and seen at the G20?

One obvious suggestion is that the Summit should consider human rights not as a separate issue to be discussed outside of the Summit, but rather something that should be embedded into each and every discussion concerning future and current policies. This means human rights issues will be reflected within the agendas and working groups co-chaired by States.

Surely greater discussion concerning human rights is expected at such an important global platform.

Whatever happened to …?

This article was originally published at Election Watch 2013

Whatever happened to …?

Credit: Takver, Flickr

Credit: Takver, Flickr

Both The Wikileaks Party (WLP) and the Pirate Party of Australia (PPAU) failed to win any seats, despite heavy campaigning and a solid groundswell of dedicated volunteers spruiking their respective platforms. So what are some of the theories as to what went wrong? What’s next?

There’s been much discussion as to the internal implosion of the Wikileaks Party and the departure of key people such as Leslie Cannold(link is external). Ms Cannold spoke candidly about the lack of transparency, accountability and backdoor power plays as well as the resignation of key members on the Wikileaks National Council due to the preference deals that saw right-wing parties preferenced over key allies such as The Greens.

The widespread internal disunity painted a picture of a party that seemed highly unlikely to be able to deal with the intricacies and politicking of government.  It failed to deliver any seats, with a paltry 1.19% of votes.

Primary candidate Julian Assange has suggested that an international banking blockade on Wikileaks may have limited the ability of the party to raise money through donations. Mr Assange has vowed to run for the Senate again despite the result.

The Pirate Party of Australia (PPAU) also failed to win any seats with only 0.4% of votes, but for different reasons to the WLP.

The PPAU presented a unified front and were completely transparent about their preferences with arelease(link is external) announcing exactly where its preferences would be allocated. Despite having only a small number of volunteers on polling day when compared to WLP, the PPAU presented a strong online campaign and consistent messaging across platforms.

The failure of the PPAU to win seats may possibly be due to the fact that they are still unable to reach across the digital divide and appeal to the mainstream voter – the majority of which would have come across them only at the ballot box. The PPAU has indicated it intends to continue to campaign on its key policies and platforms.

So where to from here? Both parties could focus more on strategies that preach less to the converted and more to voters in the mainstream voting public. The challenge facing the Wikileaks Party will be to restore the sense of transparency and justice that it campaigned on. The major challenge facing the Pirate Party of Australia, as mentioned in an earlier article(link is external), is to convince the Australian voting public that they are a viable alternative to the major parties.

The Wikileaks Party vs The Pirate Party

This article was originally published at Election Watch 2013

The Wikileaks Party vs The Pirate Party

As we count down to election day, it’s worth making a comparison of some of the key policies and platform of two parties who, on the face of it, share a similar vision for Australian politics – the Wikileaks Party (WLP) and the Pirate Party of Australia (PPAU).

The Wikileaks Party and the Pirate Party are both running on a transparency platform. Both seek to instigate a shift towards the free-flow of information, whether it be in the form of advocating for a greater freedom of speech approach in law or demanding an open media market. Both parties seek to challenge the status quo on asylum seekers and call for greater accountability from governments on data retention and surveillance.

But is it realistic for voters to expect that the parties are able to effect the kind of changes they champion?

The Wikileaks Party catch-all is ‘Transparency. Accountability. Justice’ – it advocates for “…transparency of government information and action…” and will be ‘…fearless in its pursuit of truth and good governance.”

How it will go about achieving this is unclear, though the platform statement does offer a conciliatory gesture for voters wanting more information with an overview of principles that the party advocates for, such as pushing for change to current media policy, global integrity and greater Internet freedoms.

Any real information on the type of mechanisms or platforms they propose to instigate the transparency shift is light on detail. What mechanisms can the WLP employ to effect such change that is not already in use in some way or another? It’s also light on detail of other equally important areas of law such as education or tax.

The Pirate Party of Australia’s core tenets are based around freedom of information, civil and digital liberties and privacy. Like the WLP, PPAU advocates for transparency of government and participatory democracy. However in comparison to the WLP, the PPAU’s platform is much more comprehensive and goes so far as to provide details on proposed legislative exceptions and suggested policy text – in effect presenting the voter with scalable and workable solutions.  PPAU also appears to be running a more comprehensive platform taking into consideration, for example, patent and drug reform and cultural participation.

PPAU’s hurdle is convincing the voting public that they are a serious party with a serious agenda, while the WLP appears to have internal transparency and governance issues that threaten to destroy it before it gets a chance to affect any kind of real change to the Australian political environment.

Read the WLP platform statements and the Pirate Party of Australia platform(link is external).