Category Archives: Human Rights

The internet a dream for government power expansion

We’ve long known that governments like those in China and Iran will use whatever means they have available to them to surveil their residents at any moment possible – including internet use. The idea that ‘Western’ or liberal democracies would engage is such practices has until recently seemed harder to believe. This aricle on Ars Technica comments on a report issued by Wikileaks, detailing the kinds of technology, including malware type applications, which companies are producing and marketing to governments and law enforcement bodies around the world.

It’s not clear from the article which countries are currently using such software, though it’s pretty easy to see how governments will be tempted to use (or perhaps already in the process of acquriring and using) such software, in the wake of things like SOPA, and other encroachments into internet users’ privacy.

We currently lack a strong theory of privacy, liberty and freedom in the online sphere, and it seems that until we can argue that our human rights extend to the online world, governments will be able to continue to undertake the real life equivalent of constant personal surveillance without warrant or cause. With the expansion of the uses and usefulness of the internet comes the expansion of our online ‘self’ – we would not tolerate such government intervention and monitoring into our houses, or brains, and it’s time that this kind of advocacy became commonplace in the area of internet privacy and freedom.

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7 billion

This post over at Feminist Philosophers is succinct but brilliant. It captures the feeling of hope which I think has been completely lost in all the doomsday articles on over-population and armageddon type scenarios about the end of the world as we know it now that we are 7 billion, and not 6-billion-and-something.

Yes, if all 7 billion consumed the resources that I do right now, it really would be the end of the world, and quick. But they don’t, and hopefully we will all find ways to meet the challenges that this population will bring with it.

Interestingly, addressing climate change is inherently linked with empowering women and girls. As this blog explains, a recent paper has found the most cost effective ways of spending climate change intervention dollars is via educating girls and increasing access to family planning. Through these outcomes I would also hope that maternal mortality and morbidity would decrease.

I too hope that this generation of girls has a brighter future than what we are currently able to see, particularly those who are born into the developing world.


Homelessness and hopelessness

I spend a lot of time in Melbourne’s CBD. Part of spending time in the city is being asked for spare change by those who are in serious need of money; for housing, food and other basics. I have strong conflicting feelings about giving money to those people who as for it… am I supporting a system which neglects people’s basic needs, plugging a gap that a proper welfare system would fill, or am I doing the right thing by providing a little of what these people lack so badly – money? I’m not particularly wealthy, but I am comfortable, can pay my bills and rent on time, and don’t have to scrounge for coins to shop for food in the days before payday (unlike my full-time student days). Life is good for me, and I give to charities as well as, at times, those who ask for money informally on the street. Another kind of charity. It is so sad that there are people who are so neglected and ignored by society and our social safety nets. But what to do, and how to prevent this from happening in the first place?

Through the time I’ve spent in the city, and my interactions with those who find themselves living in the streets of the city, I’ve come to know a few all too familiar faces. I get alarmed when there is a new face I haven’t seen before, and watch in moments of sadness, hopelessness, as their health and general outlook worsen. One particular character I’ve come to know a little is a friendly guy who doesn’t fit any of the priority categories for homelessness services – he doesn’t have a mental health problem, a drug abuse problem, he isn’t under 25. He’s not a woman experiencing domestic violence. Of course, none of these factors guarantee assistance when it’s required, but currently, he can’t find many services that can even consider helping him. Probably, even if he did fall into any of those categories he would still face long wait times for assistance. I think this is his second Melbourne winter on the street, and he has aged markedly in this time, unsurprisingly. For me, his story highlights the need to ensure not only that we prioritise service delivery to those who are most in need, but to all of those who need it. Homelessness, in and of itself, should be a priority category all on its own.


Ted Lapkin, the IPA and Human Rights

Ted Lapkin of the IPA has written a scathing criticism of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, just as the consultation period after the first 4 years of operation draws to a close. As someone who identifies as a libertarian in many respects, I must voice my dismay at the essentialist arguments posed by Lapkin in opposition to human rights protections. The Charter is an instrument which allows courts to declare a law incompatible with human rights. It does not allow judges to ‘make law’ or usurp the sovereignty of Parliament, as Lapkin suggests in his article. (You can also read the IPA submission into the Charter’s review here.)

The IPA states on their website that they “[support] the free market of ideas, the free flow of capital, a limited and efficient government, evidence-based public policy, the rule of law, and representative democracy.” It is disappointing to see a think-tank that self-identifies as being pro-economic and political freedom advocate against an instrument which allows for a check and balance to be placed upon the exercise of legislative power. This surely should fit within the realm of political and economic freedom. Do we really have a pro-free-market think-tank advocating for the government to be able to wield unchecked power? How confused the IPA must be. Perhaps I can see, from a purely libertarian stand point, how another layer of bureaucratic oversight is negative in the quest to keep the government small, however this is an integral part of ensuring the wide powers of government are not used to crush individuals.

Lapkin argues that the intervention of “unelected judges into the business of our elected legislature entirely distorts the political dynamic”. If Lapkin, and many others who use this line of argument against the Charter, knew the structure of our Constitution and the function the judicial power within the context of the separation of powers, he would see that such interventions are precisely called for by our system of governance. This is part of the doctrine of responsible government, designed specifically to prevent the over-reach of the legislative and executive arms of government. He would also know that there is little if any protection for the individual against the might of the state written into this document. Mr Lapkin, are you really suggesting that every law the Parliament enacts reflects the will of the people?

Lapkin also refers to the way the Charter allows judges to look to decisions by courts outside the jurisdiction of Australia. Here I refer Mr Lapkin to the well-established principles of legislative interpretation, which Australia inherited from Britain along with our common law. When interpreting legislation, judges may, and routinely do, look to decisions made by courts outside of Australia, with particular consideration given to courts near the top of their own hierarchies. This is a standard practice in our judicial systems, and does not undermine the sovereignty of Australia – judges can work only with laws made by Parliament.

I am not a member of the so-called “left-leaning human rights industry” which Mr Lapkin refers to. Political debate in Australia needs to mature beyond this right-left divide and towards an analysis of policies and practices on their outcomes. The outcome of the Human Rights Charter is to limit the exercise of legislative and executive power, and protect individuals in the very unequal relationship between the individual and the State. I would have thought this fitted precisely within the IPA’s vision for the role of the State and the role of the individual in a well-functioning system. Instead, the IPA has reverted to classic right-wing popular sound bites about “unelected judges” and the having “legal fads and fashions” “foist” upon us. One of the cornerstones of legal systems the world over is that they move very slowly, often lagging decades behind the consensus on many issues within society. Mr Lapkin, if only our legal system could be so nimble as to keep pace with society so easily.

Most concerning though, is Lapkin’s assertion that human rights are not a universal concept. Before Magna Carta, there are a number of historical documents, including the Cyrus Cylinder, which declare human rights as early as the 6th Century BCE. Human rights are not merely a “Western concept” that we thrust upon others, or an invention of “the left” in the recent past. Let us ask the brave protesters in Tahrir Square, or those fleeing the Syrian regime what they think of human rights.

Human rights at times pose situations that call for difficult balancing of competing rights; the case Mr Lapkin cites of a convicted sex offender using the Charter to avoid the Extended Supervision Orders is one such example. This does not mean that human rights are a broken concept, it means that the operation of both the Charter and the Extended Supervision Orders need to be reviewed. The Charter was the first working human rights instrument in Victoria; let us work to strengthen it and ensure it is operating as we intend it to, rather than throw the baby out with the bath water and allow government to exercise power without regard for individual rights.