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Comment: The mark of power in West Papua

In the contested province of West Papua – which sees local West Papuans calling for independence from Indonesia – torture is used to remind citizens who exactly is in charge.

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Its practice is persistent, widespread and has been used by the Indonesia state as a means of controlling locals for 50 years.

Most recently, in February this year six West Papuan men were arrested and detained by the local police just outside the province’s capital Jayapura.

During the police interrogation all six men were tortured to confess that they knew the whereabouts of two key pro-West Papuan independence activists, Sebby Sambom and Terrianus Sato, who have gone into hiding. On the following day, four of the men were released without any charge; Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap remain in police custody, charged with “possessing a sharp weapon” under Emergency Regulation 12/1951 – an antiquated law dating from Dutch colonial days.

Klembiap works as a cleaner at the local state hospital and knows nothing about the targeted West Papuan fugitives. The police found him carrying an axe which he had found abandoned on the street when they stopped him. However, the police did not accept his explanation and instead charged him. His case will soon be tried in Jayapura magistrate’s court.

In testimony to his lawyers from local NGO the Democratic Alliance for Papua, Klembiap complained that he was electrocuted on the back of his head and was beaten on his legs by the police. The interrogation left black marks on his body.

Put in a broader context, the cases of Gobay and Klembiap are not uncommon or isolated. Rather, they reveal the way the Indonesian state has governed West Papua for the last 50 years. In this context, torture is widespread and has become a standard procedure of the Indonesian state and security forces targeting pro-West Papuan independence activists.

As in this most recent case, the police use torture to extract confessions from suspects, to collect intelligence information and/or simply to exact shock and awe effects. If torture fails, suspects are charged with out dated laws such as Regulation 12/1951. This law was the product of Dutch colonial powers attempting to justify any arrest of pro-Indonesian activists back in the early days of that nation’s own struggle against their European masters. The maximum penalty of carrying a weapon is 10 years imprisonment.

The fact that the other four suspects were released after being tortured is important. Torturing suspects and releasing them because they were found innocent exemplifies the use of shock and awe by the Indonesian state. This element is quite distinct from typical notions of torture’s purpose (such as gaining confessions). With shock and awe effects, the police are not interested in collecting intelligence information. Rather, they aim to display the unrestrained sovereign power of the Indonesian state over its own people. The police deliberately mark the bodies of the suspects despite the absence of any legal and moral reasons.

This pattern resonates with torture expert Darius Rejali’s description of torture as a civic marker. That is, torture serves as means of separating levels of citizenship. In other words, torture has been used to govern citizens and to discriminate against non-citizens throughout the history of humankind. What has changed, according to Rejali, is the technology. When states are more democratic, more hidden technologies of torture are employed.

As a civic marker, torture has become a way for the Indonesian state to establish and maintain its control over West Papua’s territory. Torture is not merely a technique to inflict pain over the body. Rather, it has become an effective machinery to colonise the West Papuan space, which is marked with West Papuan resistance movements.

The direct and deliberate involvement of state controlled organisations is a disturbing feature of torture in West Papua; that’s because the primary responsibility and obligation of any state is to protect its own citizens, not to act as an agent of terror.

It may not be surprising for us to learn that the Indonesian justice system seems unable to hold the state accountable. On the contrary, innocent West Papuans, like Klembiap, are put on trial simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both utilitarian and shock and awe torture not only leave deep scars in the body and psyche of West Papuans but, more importantly, treat West Papuans as non-citizens and non-people.

Budi Hernawan is a PhD researcher based at the Regulatory Institutions Network in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

This is an edited version of an article originally published on the blog Regarding rights.

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How young is too young to change sex?

On the surface, Coy Mathis is a typical seven-year-old girl.

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She likes dressing up, gravitates towards the colour pink, and enjoys playing with her dolls.

But Coy was born a boy.

For Coy’s doting parent’s Catherine and Jeremy Mathis, it’s been an eye-opening journey.

“That’s who she’s always been,” says Mrs Mathis.

“Really as soon as she could talk, she was showing us and telling us that she felt like a girl. It wasn’t until she was closer to two-and-a-half and three that she was saying ‘I don’t want to be a girl, I am a girl’.

“She was trying so hard to tell us how she felt and we were ignoring her. And so she started sinking into a depression and started having anxiety about going anywhere where people would know that she was a boy.”

Various medical professionals agreed Coy was transgender.

She was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder — a condition characterised by overwhelming feelings of identification with the opposite sex, of being born into the wrong body.

Backed by medical experts, a growing number of parents in the United States are allowing their kids to live openly as the other gender.

The increasing number of young people undergoing gender reassignment has raised questions over whether children have enough opportunity to understand their identity before making the switch.

“We are seeing more, but because society is becoming more permissive and not pushing people into the closet or worse, into antisocial behaviour or chemical dependency or suicide,” said leading transgender surgeon, Dr Marci Bowers.

“We do know still that 50 per cent of transgender youth attempt or commit suicide and so that’s still a troubling statistic.”

For the past year Coy has been living openly as a girl, and the difference in Coy’s demeanor changed almost overnight, says Mrs Mathis. Coy became “thrilled with herself, and wanting everybody to see her and who she was.”

However, a few challenges remain.

The Mathis family was recently at the centre of a media storm after Coy’s school banned her from using the girl’s restrooms. The family filed suit and Coy and her siblings are now homeschooled.

Debate also continues in Arizona over a controversial bill in the state of Arizona that would make it an offence for a transgender person to use the bathroom of their choice.

“The bottom line is that transgender people represent an extremely minute fraction of the population,” said architect of the bill, Arizona state legislator John Kavanaugh.

“I’m not really sure if I want to make 90 per cent of the people really upset and concerned especially when children are involved to placate a minority.”

Following public outcry the bill was amended, but it still allows private business owners to dictate the rules of private bathrooms.

Coy’s mum says despite the challenges her daughter will face in the future, they “would rather have a child that is happy and a little bit different than what we imagined than have a child that’s depressed and unhappy.

“Being transgender shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of, you’re just a little bit different and we just kind of need to get to that point in society that it’s OK to be who you are, even if you’re not the ideal.”

Watch the full report, Crossover Kids, from Jeanette Francis.

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Comment: Keeping us honest – protecting whistleblowers

By Suelette Dreyfus, University of Melbourne

Australia has been fortunate enough to see mostly honest governments.

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We’ve experienced neither the corruption of 1950s Italy nor the tyranny of 1970s Brazil. We are not, however, without our issues: give a government enough time and it is almost inevitable that corruption or serious wrongdoing will arise.

The institutional corruption of the Bjelke-Petersen government in Queensland showed this. This was followed by the Wood Royal Commission’s revelations of a thoroughly rotten NSW police force.

Currently, the Reserve Bank is embroiled in the nation’s biggest bribery scandal through its subsidiary Securency. The Gillard government’s announcement of a royal commission on child sexual abuse was a response to mounting evidence, including allegations of police collusion. These patterns of wrongdoing repeat.

Whistleblowing provides one system to reveal such serious wrongdoing. Done properly, it creates a method of improving integrity in government. Importantly it also prevents a small problem turning into a full scale catastrophe. As an example, no government can be sure that every person they hire will be honest: whistleblowing provides a fail-safe for this.

Last month, federal attorney-general Mark Dreyfus released proposed legislation designed to protect whistleblowers. However, while a step in the right direction, the bill fails to do so in important situations.

Julia Gillard announced a royal commission into alleged child abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic church. AAP/Stephanie Flack

Politicians

The bill won’t protect people from making disclosures about the conduct of ministers (including the prime minister), the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate in many circumstances.

Clearly this is an utterly self-interested move by politicians and ought to be changed.

Intelligence agencies

The bill has exclusions for intelligence agencies and the use of intelligence information that result in whistleblowers effectively not being protected in a range of circumstances.

Intelligence agencies and their information must be included exactly because there is so little transparency around them. Such agencies employ people who seek to serve the public, but like the NSW police force in the early 1990s, it is possible pervasive corruption may erupt at some point. Given the far-reaching powers gifted to these agencies, it is vital corruption is stamped out early.

One could argue that the intensive screening processes used by such agencies would provide an effective fail-safe but as we saw in 2011, it too can fail. The Defence Security Authority pushed through thousands of falsified security checks on would-be employees, including top secret level clearances sent to ASIO.

How do we know about this major systems failure today? Three whistleblowers went to the media – after they unsuccessfully raised questions about the serious wrongdoing internally and were bullied for it. The initial failure of the fail-safe, and the bullying of whistleblowers that followed, illustrates why intelligence agencies cannot be excluded from this bill.

The media

Protection for those going to the media must also be better defined – and provide more solid ground to whistleblowers.

Most whistleblowers simply want to stop the wrongdoing. However, corruption may be systemic – from the bottom all the way to the top – making revealing the wrongdoing difficult or even dangerous. The media may be the only safe option to effect change.

There is strong public support among Australians for protecting whistleblowers and for permitting whistleblowers to go to the media. According to a 2012 Newspoll commissioned by our research team, 87% of Australians support whistleblowers being able to turn to the media, even if it means revealing inside information to do so.

The process

Whistleblowers need to know very specifically when they are protected if they are to make the hard choice to reveal wrongdoing. The bill is vague in this regard. Research shows they do pay attention to formal paths set up for them so these need to be defined in far more detail.

The bill as proposed might not have protected whistleblowers revealing some of the misconduct from a scandal such as WA Inc Royal Commission were it at a federal level. This is one way to test the bill’s robustness – and as currently drafted, the bill fails.

The current bill has two main benchmarks for comparison: Andrew Wilkie’s private members bill and the ACT whistleblowing legislation passed in August last year. Both set a high standard for any new legislation and both are better than Dreyfus’ current proposed bill.

Andrew Wilkie is both an advocate of whistlerblower rights and a critic of Dreyfus’ bill. AAP/Penny Bradfield

However, the attorney-general has the opportunity to not only raise the bill to their standard, but to take the new bill a step further still. This could be achieved by providing financial support for the whistleblower. In Britain, often held up as being a zenith of whistleblowing legislation, the high cost of legal defense has become a point of failure.

The new Australian bill could remedy this by a creating a defence fund specifically for whistleblower cases in the public interest. It could be self-funding by taking a percentage of any savings to the public purse realised as a result of whistleblowing.

Such a scheme would be a public interest adaption of the US qui tam legal remedies. Rather than the whistleblower receiving a large cheque (potentially creating the wrong motivation), they would receive free or subsidised legal support via the fund.

Whistleblowing is a core freedom of expression issue. It is critical we properly protect whistleblowers brave enough to step forward. It is not possible to ensure that everyone elected to or employed by government is angelic. But with good whistleblowing laws we can ensure that our collective better angels are watching out for the integrity of our public institutions.

Suelette Dreyfus receives funding from the ARC through DP1095696 ‘The changing roles, avenues and Impacts of public interest whistleblowing in the era of secure online technologies.’ She is affiliated with NGO project Blueprint for Free Speech which was involved with assisting Andrew Wilkie with his whistleblowing bill.

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Comment: Is high speed rail be worth the wait?

By James Whitmore, The Conversation

East coast Australian cities could one day be linked by high speed rail, but with a price tag of $114 billion and a 40 year timeframe, according to a study released by the Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

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Under the plan announced today, the 1,748 kilometre network – including 144 kilometres of tunnels – will be completed in stages, linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

The Sydney to Canberra section would be completed in 2035. The last stage, linking the Gold Coast and Newcastle, will be finished in 2058.

The analysis is the second phase of a strategic plan announced in 2010.

The government says despite the large price tag, high speed rail is viable, estimating the network will attract 40% of intercity air passengers by 2065, with 83.6 million passengers expected per year.

We put it to the experts: it’s a long time to wait, and it will cost a lot. Is high speed rail worth it?


Matthew Burke, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

The report estimates between 40-60% aviation passengers will transfer to rail. I’m not entirely sure that’s achievable.

If you’re in Coffs Harbour trying to get to Sydney, high speed rail makes sense. A travel time between Sydney and Canberra of an hour down from four makes that a very competitive service.

In a world where oil reserves are constrained, aviation gas may become much more expensive and there may be differences between relative costs. Under those scenarios high speed rail might stack up.

It would make sense to agree and preserve a corridor and plan for a future system but to commence construction only when it’s financially viable.

Should we be doing high speed rail at this point in time with Australian cities the size they are? On a world scale they’re pretty small, the distances between them a very large, and the cost to link them up is enormous.

At the very lowest the cost of high speed rail between Newcastle and Brisbane could be $20 billion, and as high as $40 billion. For $20 billion you could give Brisbane its cross river rail project. You could give the Sunshine Coast its first ever fixed public transport network. You can quadruple the size of the light rail on the Gold coast, and you could still have $10-30 billion left over.

A significant portion of the use that’s projected is for daily commuters who would come from ‘lifestyle’ cities on the outskirts of Sydney and Melbourne travelling to the major centres. These would become the most subsidized commuters in the history of Australian urban settlement. And I’m not sure you could call that travel sustainable even if it’s by rail.


Rico Merkert, Senior Lecturer in Aviation Management, University of Sydney Business School

This is not a new phenomenon. We have seen huge programs in Western Europe: in Spain, France, Germany, even the UK now has a high speed train program connecting London with the North of England. Japan, China and Taiwan do too. At some point we will see high speed trains in Australia. It’s just a question of how soon and at what cost.

It does require informed debate given the large cost and huge up-front investment.

The money could always be spent elsewhere. It would, however, at least in my view, be money well spent, with benefits of $2.30 per $1 spent. Many people will argue that these estimates are optimistic. Construction costs are likely to go up, but still it will still be sensible to look into this more seriously.

There will be quite a lot of demand, particularly on the east coast with Brisbane, Sydney, and Canberra. Sydney to Melbourne is currently the fifth busiest airline route in the world. Brisbane to Sydney is not far behind. There’s quite a lot of potential here as a high speed train could get you from Sydney CBD to Melbourne CBD in under three hours. That’s quite an interesting proposition for a lot of business travellers.

It will be an alternative to airlines. It won’t replace air traffic, because it’s still a lot faster to travel via air. But some travellers based right in the city centre next to the train station might find the offer attractive. In terms of service levels they’re similar to a flight. If the government is not prepared to subsidise these train operations then the prices for these train trips will be slightly higher than those on a [air] carrier (most certainly if it is a low cost carrier, such as Jetstar).


Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University

The high speed rail system in Japan was started after the first oil crisis. We’re now up to the fourth or fifth. The European system has developed along those lines as well. You cannot continue to see a future where more and more oil is used. Some countries have made a serious effort to get off it.

I welcome any studies about getting people out of cars and planes and making a more sustainable transport system. If it’s electric it’s potentially much easier to link into the renewable energy system. We’ve got to get off oil especially diesel.

We’ve got to be serious about this, and I wonder how serious it is to propose a project that will cost $114 billion.

I’ve been looking at rail construction costs the past few years and getting more and more angry at how they have ballooned, which is due to unnecessary risk management.

This proposal seems to be beyond any realistic cost to build. Yet we built the southern railway in Perth for $17 million per kilometer. It had tunnels and bridges, overpasses and is essentially high speed rail at 130 kilometre per hour. I understand the high quality track requirements but these numbers seem too high to me.

More reactions to come

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Wed-locked: Fake marriages in Australia

“I do” are the magic words that bind a couple together, till death do they part.

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But for some Australians the words “I do” are code for “set me free”.

Fake marriage amongst young Arabs who identify as gay or lesbian has gone unreported until now, and there’s a good reason.

In the Arab World almost all 22 states and territories punish homosexuality with imprisonment.

Six of those still enforce the death penalty.

Mike, not his real name, spent the past three years trying to escape persecution for being gay. He’s in Sydney on a temporary protection visa.

He says he feels as though a fake marriage is his only choice.

“I don’t have any more options other than finding an Arab lesbian in the same situation,” he says.

“I lived with my family it was very hard for me to tell them – actually impossible. It was not safe for me to talk. The only option was to flee to any country that is not in the Arab World and that’s how I ended up in Sydney. But when I came here, I was shocked that there are people especially in the Arab community dealing homosexuality in the same negative way.”

Similarly, Sarah, who has asked that her identity be concealed, felt she needed to enter into a fake marriage in order to avoid ostracision.

“Being a lesbian and not out to my family has made it pretty hard,” she says.

“The option I chose was to get married to a gay guy who was in the similar position as I was where he couldn’t come out to his family so the families would be happy and I’d have no risk of losing my family I guess.”

Sarah and her gay husband are both Arab Australians.

They have maintained a faux marriage for about five years.

Psychologist Sekneh Becknett says fake marriages between gay and lesbian Arabic youth are becoming increasingly common.

“In 10 years of clinical experience I’ve seen hundreds of young folk in these predicaments,” she says.

“It’s different for folks from Arabic speaking backgrounds because of the expectations around gender, cultural, religion. If these young folks don’t fulfill those prescribed roles there are repercussions of being ostracised, the fear of being met with physical harm and isolation.”

Dr Becknett says fake marriages can have damaging psychological effects.

“The long-term impact of living this double life produces immense stress,” she says.

“It’s seldom that it placates the family – there is then the expectation of babies to be born – the life long commitment of a marriage. Sometimes what happens is the resentment of the same-sex attracted partner begins to build.”

A new Australian web-series called iluvubut.tv, which is produced by members of the community, aims to put pressure on both Arabic speaking networks and gay and lesbian organisations to provide more support for people living in fake marriages.

Executive producer of iluvubut.tv, Alisar Gazal says the series is intended to show the struggles faced by couples in fake marriages.

“The web series reflects what happens on a daily basis in people’s lives,” she says.

“It happens a lot and I know of a lot of people who are constantly searching for gay husbands or lesbian wives. It requires an enormous amount of energy in order to be able to live like that but they have to do it because we also love where we come from – we also love who we are as Arab Australians and we are very strongly connected to our culture.”

See more of Patrick Abboud’s news stories on The Feed, broadcasting weeknights at 7:30pm on SBS TWO.

Watch the video report on YouTube:

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