Australia should lead refugee rethink: report

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by
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Australia might not be meeting its international refugee obligations but it is best placed to kick start international reform, a new research paper says.

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The Lowy Institute analysis argues Australia should take the lead on proposing changes to how the 1951 Refugee Convention is implemented, before it loses the credibility to do so.

Author Khalid Koser believes the international refugee regime is failing countries, as well as refugees.

Given its tough asylum seeker policies, having the Abbott government lead reform would generate disdain among some advocates, Dr Koser notes.

“Why acknowledge, and even reward, deviancy?” they’d suggest.

But Dr Koser argues the powerful reason is that by Australia initiating change, there could be a more effective asylum policy.

“A reform debate led by Australia should systematically address the current weaknesses in the asylum regime that have made Australia feel obliged to react with some force … and potentially remove the need for such extreme measures.”

As one of the rich states in the Asia-Pacific region and a signatory to the convention, Australia was a target for asylum seekers, Dr Koser said.

Despite promoting Australia as a potential leader, the analysis does state it has reneged on its international obligations.

Undertaking interviews with asylum seekers on board ships did not meet the international standard.

Any review of the convention’s implementation should look to impose sanctions on states that cause displacement, reduce the need for long-distance asylum seeking and weaken the burden on destination countries.


No, feminism is not about choice

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by
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Meagan Tyler, RMIT University

Feminism is back in fashion.

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As the push to claim the “f-word” has intensified, public figures, corporations and much of the mainstream media have propelled a largely unchallenging version of feminism into the popular consciousness. It is a feminism that never mentions women’s liberation, instead opting for a celebration of “choice”.

Read almost any online article about feminism and the comments will soon devolve into a debate about choice. It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is, people are quick to reframe the issue as one of women’s empowerment and right to choose. This provides a neat diversion from talking about the larger power structures and social norms that restrict women, in many different ways, all around the world.

It’s been a big month for “choice feminism”. In late March, the fashion magazine empire Vogue launched a “My Choice” video in India as part of its Vogue Empower campaign which, quite literally, reduced women’s empowerment to a series of choices.

 

My Choice.

 

The video went viral and, as the India-based reporter Gunjeet Sra noted, the hypocrisy of an “industry that is based on fetishising, objectifying and reinforcing sexist standards of beauty on women”, supposedly promoting feminism, went largely unremarked.

This liberal brand of “choice feminism” was then followed to its logical, if absurd, conclusion, when a Liberal Democrat candidate in the upcoming UK election tried to explain away footage of him getting a lap dance in a strip club. Apparently, it was all part of his feminist mission to assist in “empowering women to make legal choices, not to judge the legal choices they make”.

Even Playboy has recently decided to weigh in on the finer points of feminist theory, and have come out in favour of a woman’s right to be subjected to the pornographic gaze. Which, conveniently, fits in very nicely with their own business plan, of course.

It is incidents like these, as well as hackneyed arguments about whether Beyoncé is a feminist, or whether male politicians should wear This is What a Feminist Looks Like T-shirts, that inspired a new collection of feminist writing, Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism.

In the book, which I co-edited, 20 of us take on different topics that have become part of the “choice feminism” landscape: from pornography and prostitution, to female genital mutilation, from women’s magazines and marriage, to sexual violence. While coming from a range of different perspectives, we all critique the notion that “choice” should be the ultimate arbiter of women’s freedom.

 

Floriane Legendre

 

Many of us argue that the rise of this pop-feminism is actually more insidious than poking fun at the inane end of the “I choose my choice” spectrum might suggest.

First of all, the choice arguments are fundamentally flawed because they assume a level of unmitigated freedom for women that simply doesn’t exist. Yes, we make choices, but these are shaped and constrained by the unequal conditions in which we live. It would only make sense to uncritically celebrate choice in a post-patriarchal world.

Second, the idea that more choices automatically equate to more freedom is a falsehood. This is essentially just selling neo-liberalism with a feminist twist. Yes, women can now work or stay at home if they have children, for example, but this “choice” is fairly hollow when child-rearing continues to be constructed as “women’s work”, there is insufficient state support for childcare, and childless women are decried as selfish.

Third, the focus on women’s choices as the be-all and end-all of feminism has resulted in in a perverse kind of victim-blaming and a distraction from the real problems women still face. If you’re not happy with the way things are, don’t blame misogyny and sexism, the pay gap, entrenched gender roles, women’s lack of representation on boards or in parliament, or an epidemic of violence against women. Blame yourself. You obviously made the wrong choice.

As sociologist Natalie Jovanovski points out in her Freedom Fallacy chapter, it is not surprising this kind of liberal feminism has risen to prominence. In privileging individual choice above all else, it doesn’t challenge the status quo.

It doesn’t demand significant social change, and it effectively undermines calls for collective action. Basically, it asks nothing of you and delivers nothing in return.

Instead of resistance, we now have activities that were once held up as archetypes of women’s subordinate status being presented as liberating personal choices. Sexual harassment has been reframed as harmless banter that women can enjoy. Marriage is reconstructed as a pro-feminist love-in.

Labiaplasty is seen as helpful cosmetic enhancement. Pornography is rebranded as sexual emancipation. Objectification is the new empowerment.

Instead of talking about a vision for a more equal future, we are left with inward-looking, futile discussions about whether or not individual women are “bad feminists”. Or what journalist Sarah Ditum has termed the “can you be a feminist and …” game. As though the real issue of women’s progress is whether or not we can live up to some fabled feminist ideal.

So thorough is the individualisation of “choice feminism” that when women criticise particular industries, institutions and social constructions, they are often met with accusations of attacking the women who participate in them. The importance of a structural-level analysis has been almost completely lost in popular understandings of feminism.

By way of comparison, it would seem quite ludicrous to suggest that by critiquing capitalism a Marxist was attacking wage labourers. It would similarly seem very odd to suggest that those critiquing Big Pharma hate people who work in pharmaceutical factories. Or that those who question our cultural reliance on fast-food have it in for the kids behind the counter at McDonalds.

Ultimately, the promotion of “choice” – and the myth of an already-achieved equality – have hampered our ability to challenge the very institutions that hold women back. But the fight is not over.

Many women are reasserting that feminism is a necessary social movement for the equality and liberation of all women, not just platitudes about choices for some.

Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism was launched in Australia in March. It is also available internationally.


Meagan will be on hand for an author Q&A between 3 and 4pm AEST on Thuesday April 30. Post your questions in the comments section below.

Meagan Tyler co-edited Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism.


Giants predict more magic from Cameron

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by
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Greater Western Sydney coach Leon Cameron predicts more moments of freakish skill from his star AFL forward Jeremy Cameron, but is equally thrilled by his spearhead’s physicality and appetite for hard work.

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The Giants forward wowed the Canberra crowd and watching TV audience last Saturday, with a breathtaking acrobatic overhead kick which scored a point against Gold Coast and narrowly missed being a major, which would been hard to beat for goal of the season.

The hard running and physicality which helped Cameron, who has kicked 11 goals in four games, to win All-Australian honours in 2013 appear to be back after they were missing for parts of an injury-plagued 2014 season.

“You can see the benefits of a really good pre-season on the weekend with Jeremy, he ran a lot, his ability to spring and his second efforts were back,” Leon Cameron said.

“The thing about Jeremy is he plays the game tough and hard. I love the way he crashes packs and he hits hard.

“Then on the flip side, there’s some brilliant stuff that he can do.

“The good thing about Jeremy’s footy at the moment is he’s finding the right balance of hardness, contested footy, some very special things that he can do on the field, but also this hard running work rate that he’s actually starting to produce week in, week out.

“When you get that you get a very, very dangerous player, so it’s probably not the last time we’ll talk about some freakish things that he does on the footy field, but he knows that he builds his game on all the hard stuff.”

The Giants coach admitted to missing his namesake’s moment of athletic inspiration against the Suns.

“I blinked at the he time it happened and then the crowd roared,” Leon Cameron said.

“I actually didn’t know what happened (until) I looked at the replay.”

He felt his spearhead was also benefiting from the emergence and support of exciting young forwards Cam McCarthy and James Stewart, with the former already kicking 13 goals this season.

“There’s no doubt Jeremy looks freer, we’re probably not relying on him as much because Cam McCarthy has come along,” the coach said.

“But also I sensed last week that Jeremy did not have to be that player in the square, where James took a couple of good contested marks.”

One forward who won’t face West Coast in Perth on Saturday is Rhys Palmer, who will be out for five-to-six weeks after suffering a shoulder injury last weekend, in his 100th AFL appearance.

Will Hoskin-Elliott looms as his likely replacement, with Cameron declaring he had 30 players fighting for 22 spots, with Zac Williams, Matt Buntine, Curtly Hampton, Adam Kennedy and Jed Lamb among those performing well in the twos.


Chelsea on brink of title after win at Leicester

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by
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Chelsea were labelled as “boring” by Arsenal fans during the 0-0 London derby on Sunday and they were below par against a Leicester side chasing a fifth successive league win to boost their chances of survival in the top flight.

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Marc Albrighton fired Leicester ahead in first-half stoppage time but Didier Drogba equalised soon after the restart before late goals from John Terry and Ramires ensured Chelsea will seal the title with victory against Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Chelsea have 80 points from 34 games with last season’s champions Manchester City second on 67. Third-placed Arsenal also have 67 but they have played a game less.

Leicester remained 17th with 31 points from 34 games, one point ahead of 18th-placed Sunderland but Nigel Pearson’s side have played a game more.

“I think maybe we are scared to win the league,” Drogba told Sky Sports. “Two wins and then we get the trophy but this one was difficult. We have to give credit to Leicester.

“In the second half we came back and we wanted to make sure the game against Crystal Palace is the one that gives us the league.

“We don’t get enough credit. We are top of the league, we have the most points and people find us boring.”

Leicester kept things tight in the early stages but they were forced to make two quick substitutions because of injury, Matty James replacing midfielder Andy King and Ritchie De Laet coming on for defender Robert Huth.

The home side’s rhythm was not disrupted, however, and left back Paul Konchesky forced Petr Cech into a smart save at his near post before Chelsea cleared their lines after a scramble in the box.

Leicester took the lead when Jamie Vardy crossed the ball into the box and Albrighton capitalised on Cesar Azpilicueta’s slip to sidefoot past Cech.

But just as Leicester fans chanted “We are staying up”, Chelsea equalised when Drogba swept home Branislav Ivanovic’s cross in the 48th minute to level the scores.

Chelsea were being well contained by Leicester but the visitors snatched the lead in the 79th minute when Gary Cahill headed Cesc Fabregas’s corner towards goal and Terry was lurking at the back post to flick the ball past Kasper Schmeichel.

If Chelsea’s second was a little fortunate, their third was anything but as Brazilian midfielder Ramires fired a left-foot shot home from the edge of the box to take the London side closer to the title.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)


Finance News Update, what you need to know

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by
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WORLD FINANCE UPDATE:

The Australian dollar has moved past the US80 cent mark in response to a weaker greenback, and after the Federal Reserve suggested a slow series of rate rises, but likely not as early as June.

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At 0630 AEST on Thursday, the local currency was trading at 80.20 US cents, up from 79.99 cents on Wednesday.

And the Australian share market looks set to open lower after Wall Street fell on news the US economy grew just 0.2 per cent in the first quarter.

At 0645 AEST on Thursday, the June share price index futures contract was down 41 points at 5,786.

ELSEWHERE:

WASHINGTON – The Federal Reserve has left open its timeframe for a rise in interest rates, following a winter slowdown that stalled US economic growth.

FRANKFURT – Inflation in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, crept higher in April with consumer prices rising by 0.4 per cent year-on-year.

FRANKFURT – Euro area private sector loans, a gauge of economic health, have started growing again, suggesting the European Central Bank’s monetary policy is beginning to work.

OSLO – Norway’s state-owned pension fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has reported a record quarterly return, owing primarily to the European Central Bank’s easing of monetary policy.

NEW YORK – Generic drug company Mylan has raised its bid for a second time for Perrigo, offering $US35.6 billion ($A44.44 billion) for the over-the-counter giant.

MOSCOW – Russia’s gas giant Gazprom says its net profits in 2014 plunged sevenfold over the previous year, weighed down by fallout from the Ukraine crisis and shrinking value of the rouble.

NEW YORK – MasterCard says its profit rose 17 per cent in the first quarter, as consumers across the globe spent more on their MasterCards.

MILAN – Car maker Fiat Chrysler returned to profit in the first quarter thanks to a 38 per cent jump in revenue in North America and modest growth in Europe.

WASHINGTON – Samsung regained the lead in the global smartphone market in the first quarter, as sales in emerging markets helped it overtake Apple, a research group says.


Kaino and Piutau return for battling Blues

Posted on: May 7th, 2019 by
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All Blacks pair Jerome Kaino and Charles Piutau return from a rest to bolster the Blues, who face the Western Force in a clash of the Super Rugby cellar dwellers.

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Captain and No.8 Kaino replaces Steven Luatua for Saturday’s game in Auckland while Piutau is restored at fullback in the two starting changes to the Blues team beaten 29-15 by the Crusaders in Christchurch last week.

That result left them 14th, sitting one point and one place ahead of the bottom-placed Force, who share the same 1-9 win-loss record.

Piutau’s recall comes at the expense of Frank Halai, with Lolagi Visinia shifted from fullback to the right wing.

Coach Sir John Kirwan decided to retain powerful flanker Akira Ioane, 19, to play alongside Kaino, with All Black Luatua possibly paying for some mixed recent form.

All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu is still unavailable with a leg injury but flanker Luke Braid is available again after two games out with concussion.

He is included on the reserves bench.

Doubts surround the fitness of midfield pair Francis Saili and George Moala, who have both been bracketed with Hamish Northcott.

Lock Josh Bekhuis has also been bracketed, with Culum Retallick on standby to take his place.

Blues: Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia, Francis Saili/Hamish Northcott, George Moala/Hamish Northcott, Melani Nanai, Dan Bowden, Jimmy Cowan, Jerome Kaino (capt), Brendon O’Connor, Akira Ioane, Hayden Triggs, Josh Bekhuis/Culum Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Steven Luatua, Luke Braid, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ihaia West, Tevita Li.


Tevez scores twice but Juve made to wait for title by Lazio

Posted on: May 7th, 2019 by
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Juventus stayed 14 points clear of Lazio with five games to play and, with the better head-to-head record, need a draw at Sampdoria on Saturday to clinch a fourth successive Serie A title.

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“At this stage it would take a miracle in reverse for us not to win the title,” said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.

“I hope we can get the point we need in Genoa (against Sampdoria), even though we have lost our last two away games at Parma and Torino, so we can concentrate on the Champions League and Coppa Italia matches.”

Gonzalo Rodriguez put Fiorentina ahead with a penalty, Fernando Llorente headed Juve level before Tevez scored twice, taking his league tally to 20, to complete the win. Rodriguez missed a second penalty in between and Josip Ilicic replied with a late goal.

Marco Parolo, Miroslav Klose and Antonio Candreva scored in a six-minute spell early in the game to set up a comfortable win for Lazio over Parma. Keita Balde added the fourth late in the game.

AC Milan, confined to a training camp by coach Filippo Inzaghi following their 2-1 defeat at Udinese on Saturday, suffered more misery by losing 3-1 at home to Genoa. Angry supporters greeted the team with a huge banner reading “enough” before kickoff.

Ivory Coast striker Seydou Doumbia scored his first goal for third-placed AS Roma since his move from CSKA Moscow in January to set up a 3-0 win at Sassuolo which boosted their chances of at least reaching the Champions League playoff round.

Alessandro Florenzi and Miralem Pjanic completed the win for Rudi Garcia’s side.

Juventus have 76 points from 33 games, followed by Lazio (62), Roma (61) and Napoli (56), who visit Empoli on Thursday (1845 GMT).

Juventus could have clinched the title on Wednesday with a win combined with a draw or loss for Lazio, but those hopes quickly disappeared as Lazio raced to a 3-0 lead.

Fiorentina went ahead in the 33rd minute when Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo clumsily and unnecessarily tripped Joaquin and Rodriguez fired home the penalty, the first his side have converted in Serie A this season after four successive misses.

Pirlo made amends three minutes later by floating over a free kick for Fernando Llorente to equalise and Tevez put Juventus in front with a looping header over Norberto Neto from Patrice Evra’s long pass forward right on halftime.

Fiorentina were awarded another penalty in the 67th minute but this time, Rodriguez fired wide of the target.

Juve wrapped up the game three minutes later when Claudio Marchisio sent Tevez clear, the Argentine outran the Fiorentina defence and placed a pinpoint effort wide of Neto.

Ilicic replied for Fiorentina with a late free kick.

Milan’s defeat came as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was meeting Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol to discuss the sale of a stake in the club, which he has owned for almost 30 years.

Andrea Bertolacci and M’Baye Niang scored either side of halftime to put Genoa in control and, although Philippe Mexes pulled one back for Milan, Iago Falque sealed Genoa’s win with a stoppage time penalty.

Milan are tenth with 43 points and set to miss out on European football for the second season running.

Parma’s relegation completed a miserable season which has seen them deducted seven points for breaching financial regulations.

The club, former winners of the Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup, has changed hands twice, the players have not been paid all season and at one point had to do their own laundry.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; editing by Justin Palmer)


Concussion symptoms force Hohaia to retire

Posted on: May 7th, 2019 by
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Former New Zealand international Lance Hohaia is retiring from rugby league because of recurring concussion issues.

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The 32-year-old former Warriors utility announced his retirement from current Super League side St Helens with immediate effect, just over six months since being knocked unconscious by Wigan forward Ben Flower in the Grand Final.

In a statement, Hohaia said he has been suffering from “recurrent post-match concussion-type symptoms”.

He said the symptoms have occurred since returning to play after the off-season.

“This is the reason for my retirement.

“I am currently seeking expert medical advice to understand any potential effects to my long-term health,” he added.

“However, in the meantime I would like to say that I am extremely grateful for the career I have had and the opportunity to play for my country and such prestigious clubs as St Helens and the NZ Warriors.

“I would also like to sincerely thank all those who have supported me throughout my career and during this difficult time”.

Saints say Hohaia told them he had decided to hang up his boots but they steadfastly refused to offer an explanation for the surprise development other than to say it was the player’s own decision.

Hohaia was off contract at the end of the season and, unlikely to be offered a new deal, had spoken about moving to the United States to start a new life with his America-born wife and two young boys, who were both born in England.

He has been studying a diploma in management as he prepares for life after rugby and recently spoke about the prospect of retirement.

The hooker or halfback was at fullback when the Kiwis beat Australia in the 2008 World Cup final in Brisbane.

Hohaia won 29 caps for the Kiwis, made 185 appearances for New Zealand Warriors from 2002 to 2011, before joining the Saints on a four-year deal.


Hard line on refugees undermines principled opposition to execution

Posted on: May 7th, 2019 by
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Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

Yesterday morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the “unprecedented step” of recalling Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia.

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He also suspended all ministerial contact in response to the executions of Australian citizens Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Australia has undertaken “an international commitment to abolish the death penalty” as a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Yet the same legal instrument that enshrines the right to life, the ICCPR, is also the basis on which Australia has been condemned internationally for its treatment of asylum seekers. The Abbott government has bluntly rejected these criticisms by the United Nations and human rights bodies, including Australia’s own Human Rights Commission.

Australia has incorporated its commitment to the ICCPR into domestic law. Capital punishment is outlawed in all Australian jurisdictions. Australia will not extradite persons to countries where they may face capital punishment.

Australia lobbied Indonesia for presidential clemency partly on the basis that Chan and Sukumaran had been rehabilitated. Their reform has been credited as a success story of the Indonesian prison system.

Australia also relied on other legal and humanitarian principles in advancing human rights arguments against the executions. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described the sentence as a “grave injustice”. She noted Australia’s “strong opposition to the death penalty at home and abroad”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his deputy, shadow foreign affairs minister Tanya Plibersek, condemned the death penalty as barbaric and argued that its practice “diminishes us all”. They said the executions undermined the rule of law because the Indonesian courts were yet to hear new appeals from the Australian pair.

Australian appeals hampered by hypocrisy

While Australia condemns capital punishment as a grave violation of human rights, it blatantly violates the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

 

The government was dismissive of human rights breaches identified by Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs. AAP/Lukas Coch

 

The ICCPR prohibits arbitrary detention, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It protects the right to recognition of personhood under law. As the UN Human Rights Commissioner has specifically noted, these provisions are violated by Australia’s boats “turn back” policy and the mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Australia and offshore.

The flouting of human rights standards in relation to child asylum seekers is particularly reprehensible. Australia violates its particular obligations to children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The government was particularly aggressive in rejecting recent findings on these matters.

The government has also dismissed international condemnation. In response to the March 2015 UN finding that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers amounted to torture, Abbott said:

I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations.

The politics of managing opinion and principle

Australia’s contrasting approaches to capital punishment and the treatment of asylum seekers raise questions about our commitment to human rights and the international body of law that exists to protect these. Does the Australian voting public demand the strongest advocacy to pardon our citizens facing capital punishment abroad? Do these voters simultaneously support the denial of human rights to asylum seekers?

Some polling suggests many Australians are unsympathetic to the plight of Chan, Sukumaran and others who might face a similar fate. A 2009 poll found a clear majority preferred imprisonment to capital punishment as a penalty in Australian murder trials. However, 53% of those polled said death sentences against drug offenders in Southeast Asia should be carried out. A 2015 poll showed 52% supported the death penalty in those circumstances.

A contrasting poll found that 62% of Australian adults opposed the executions of Chan and Sukumaran. So it is clear that gauging public opinion on capital punishment is complex.

It is also clear that the government’s advocacy for Chan and Sukumaran rejected the strain of public opinion that would leave the men to their “just deserts”. Indeed, Bishop questioned the accuracy of the poll finding that a majority thought the executions should proceed.

In taking a principled stand in this case, Australia has sought to care for its own citizens. This is starkly at odds with the weight of political activity and public opinion on asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat. These people are decried as “queue jumpers” and “illegal maritime arrivals” despite the right to seek asylum being enshrined in international law.

How do we gain legitimacy for human rights advocacy?

The international human rights framework rests on principles of the universality and indivisibility of these rights. If we deny the rights of some human beings, we lose authority when arguing for the rights of others.

Australia has campaigned for the rights of convicted offenders (rehabilitated though they were), while denying the rights of asylum seekers. Under international law, it is a right and not a crime to flee from persecution and seek asylum elsewhere. Both Indonesia and Australia have ignored pleas for compassion.

Australia should seek a position of utmost legitimacy, to make it impossible for other states to accuse us of hypocrisy and ignore our appeals. Australia must aim to be a consistent global leader in human rights. To achieve this, we must address the violations of human rights committed in our own name.

With the executions of its citizens, Australia has been wronged. We can respond with diplomatic complaints or calls for the withdrawal of aid to Indonesia. Or we can seize this tragic moment as an opportunity to demand the end of capital punishment worldwide.

To do so effectively, we must assert the primacy of human life by valuing all lives and upholding the rights accorded equally to all people.

Amy Maguire does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


Real keep heat on Barca after Almeria stroll

Posted on: May 7th, 2019 by
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Barca, chasing a fifth Spanish league title in seven years, thrashed Getafe 6-0 at the Nou Camp on Tuesday and have a two-point advantage over their arch-rivals with four matches remaining.

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Champions Atletico Madrid stayed on course to secure third place and an automatic spot in the Champions League when Fernando Torres came off the bench and scored a thrilling breakaway goal to clinch a 1-0 win at Villarreal.

Torres nicked the ball away from a defender near the halfway line 16 minutes from time, sped towards the penalty area and rounded goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo before slotting into the net.

Barca have 84 points, with Real on 82 and Atletico 75, six ahead of Sevilla, who won 3-1 at La Liga debutants Eibar to climb above Valencia into fourth.

Valencia can reclaim Spain’s fourth Champions League berth, which carries a place in qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition, if they avoid defeat at mid-table Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.

Almeria held out until the stroke of halftime at the Bernabeu when Rodriguez pounced on a loose ball and lashed a shot into the top corner from just outside the penalty area.

The European champions, depleted by injuries, doubled their lead soon after halftime when Mauro Dos Santos diverted the ball into his own net under pressure from La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese forward failed to add to his tally and stayed on 39 for the season, one more than Barca’s Lionel Messi who struck twice on Tuesday.

Full back Alvaro Arbeloa netted a rare goal to make it 3-0 five minutes from time, his third in 167 La Liga games for Real, when he turned the ball past goalkeeper Ruben Martinez from a Javier Hernandez centre.

“We are not sure that Barca will drop any points but we are certain that we can win our last four games,” Real coach Carlo Ancelotti told a news conference.

“Now we begin a very important phase of the season, when every game is the most important,” added the Italian, whose side face a tough trip to Sevilla on Saturday and play at Juventus in their Champions League semi-final, first leg three days later.

Malaga’s hopes of catching sixth-placed Villarreal and securing a place in the Europa League suffered a setback when they lost 1-0 at Celta Vigo.

Elche pulled away from the relegation zone and dealt a stinging blow to Deportivo La Coruna when they thumped the visiting Galician side 4-0.

Deportivo are 18th, two points behind Almeria and four ahead of 19th-placed Granada, who host Espanyol on Thursday.

Cordoba, beaten 1-0 at Levante on Tuesday, are five points adrift at the bottom and on the brink of relegation.

(This version of the story adds the Villarreal v Atletico result)

(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)