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The Athens suburb of Koukaki is pleasant, it’s once working class roughness having long since given way to gentrification. Athens’ middle class might be doing it tough in these times of austerity and near economic collapse, but there’s not a lot of that to be seen here.
That is probably why it attracts the under-employed selling lottery tickets and knick-kancks, and the occasional beggar. Rae and I were sitting outside a small café having lunch in the sunshine when a middle-aged man came by, begging.
The usual response to beggars is to ignore them; if one gave money to every beggar one might quickly be broke. This man was a Muslim, by his clothes and the taqiyah – Islamic cap – he was wearing. He was ignored by the middle class Greek women sitting nearby.
I, too, defaulted to ignoring this man, wondering why a Muslim would be begging in Athens. The man shuffled on, looking dejected, as one might from being brought to begging.
I was processing this and wondering at my growing sense of unease. Greece has fairly strict asylum seeker laws, given the great influx of refugees that have come here in recent years. It has also cut back to almost zero its formal refugee intake, in large part in response to rising political tensions over jobs and its struggling economic circumstances.
There is no financial support for the overwhelming majority of refugees in Greece. In Islam, there is zakat, or obligatory charity, the third of the five pillars of the faith. There is also a wider sense of charity for the poor.
I remembered learning this from my friend Bang (older brother) Nur Djuli, when I was trying to learn about Islam. If one eats when another cannot, he told me, then the food will become stuck in one’s throat. This was a lesson about Islam’s wider sense of charity.
Thinking about this, I reflected on Australia’s refugee policy, its lack of charity and, unlike Greece, its remoteness from the world’s worst trouble spots. Why, this beggar could well have been a refugee from Syria or Iraq, as so many coming to Europe via Greece are.
It seemed, all of a sudden, that it was quite likely that this man, who had now wandered off, was part of the human debris of war. He almost certainly had no income and relied on public charity just to survive. All of a sudden, the food I was eating indeed became stuck in my throat.
I excused myself and went down the street. Given his slow shuffle, the man who had been begging had not gone far. I reached in my pocket and found a coin, one Euro.
Some people might say why give a beggar anything and others, more unfortunately, might say why give a Muslim anything. Others would probably ask: ‘Why not give him more?’ A Euro is not much. It was just what I had in my pocket.
I touched the man gently on the arm and when he looked around and I handed him the coin. He said something by way of thanks.
Through a range of circumstances more usually attributable to good fortune that we often like to admit, some of us live life much more easily than others. Individually and socially, we choose to respond to that good fortune in various ways.
There are wars and other forms of conflict in this world, usually not the making of those forced to flee them. Many are as horrible as have ever been and drive whole populations to seek refuge.
Greece is genuinely struggling with avoiding economic collapse and its more restrictive policies towards refugees are to a large extent understandable. Australia, by comparison, remains almost unimaginably secure and wealthy.
There is a profound meanness in Australia towards people fleeing for their lives. It leaves me wondering how my own country is able to not choke on its own good fortune.
OZ Op Ed –The Sunday Age, 15 March 2015.
Previously on Deakin Speaking, the opportunity arose to reflect on ten years of involvement with the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, as well as the practical legal training component of that event. The aspects of learning arising out of the Vis Moot in Vienna and the Vis (East) Moot in Hong Kong are many - they are truly an extraordinary educational opportunity - though that opportunity does not necessarily end with the conclusion of the oral rounds each year. In today's post, I explore the subject of Deakin (students) deciding - how students can learn from legal reasoning and decision-making in the Vis Moot.
I post these attachments without comment other than the idea that there are Indonesian and probably Malaysian child soldiers being training by IS in Syria is deeply disturbing for many reasons. My purpose is to disseminate this information, and its origins:
The text is in Indonesian, which can be machine translated at http://www.toggletext.com/
I feel a heavy weight in the pit of my stomach as I write this. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have been moved to Nusa Kambangan, where Indonesia's prisoners are executed. They are killed by firing squad.
Their death is now +-3 days away. After many years, the bureaucratic wheels are now moving more quickly.
I understand that Indonesia wants to stop the drug trade, for good reason, even though the drugs in question were bound for Australia. Had it not been for the Australian Federal Police tipping off the Indonesian police, these two men would not now be facing the ultimate penalty, which is not applied in the country the federal police of which is ultimately responsible for handing then over.
I so, however, understand that the laws of other countries apply in those countries. Our governments keep reminding us of this, and it is wise to take note. Once convicted of a crime elsewhere, even if it is not a crime in Australia, there is precious little that the government can do.
I also understand taking a life in self-defence. Drastic circumstances may call for drastic measures, and I have seen such circumstances (though, thankfully, not acted upon them).
It is even understandable, if not allowable, that one might take a life in a moment of passion or anger. This is wrong, but it is at least not pre-planned.
I also understand the necessity of due judicial process which can prolong final outcomes for years. We must have due process, exhausting all legal avenues of appeal, for whatever outcome it might be.
What I struggle to understand is that, having made a decision many years before, the bureaucracy of a state grinds over its slow and deliberate wheels to process the taking of life, and then does so. For me, regardless of the crime, having the intent and planning, this is bureaucratic murder.
No country should do this - not Indonesia, not the United States - no-one. The bureaucratic taking of life does not speak to the sins of the condemned, but about the intrinsic values of the condemner. For this reason, I oppose state murder, everywhere, always.
The resignation of East Timor’s Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, and the appointment of a new cabinet marks a fundamental change in the young country’s political landscape. Gusmao’s resignation was expected, having been initially flagged during the passing of the budget almost a year ago, but has raised questions about the country’s future direction.
Gusmao’s successor is former Fretilin Deputy Prime Minister under Jose Ramos-Horta’s prime ministership, and Fretilin Health Minister, Rui Araujo. At 50, Araujo is considered to be one of the ‘young generation’, and is widely liked and respected. Araujo’s appointment indicates that a long-discussed ‘government of national unity’ has come to fruition.
Araujo is known for being methodical and having a strong grasp of the country’s finances. As a former independent, before formally joining with Fretilin, Araujo is seen as a moderate who is able to maintain good relations with major donor countries, notably Australia and the US.
One of the principal concerns about Gusmao’s resignation has been the continued stability of East Timor. There is no doubt that, while not universally popular, he has been both the towering figure of East Timorese politics and a great stabilising influence, especially after the chaos of 2006-7.
A ‘government of national unity’ would, by bringing East Timor’s major political groupings into the same government, very likely provide a much more stable political environment than one in which there continued to be a high level of political division. The disadvantage with such an arrangement is, however, that it will leave the government without a viable opposition, which could reduce political accountability.
If such an arrangement was in place until the next elections, scheduled for 2017, this might be seen as an adequate post-Gusmao period of transition. If it went beyond 2017, however, it might start to look more like some other ‘dominant party’ states, such as Malaysia, where coalitions rule effectively unchallenged.
As for Gusmao himself, it is likely he will remain either in a ministerial role or in an advisory capacity, at least for the time being. The President, Taur Matan Ruak, is also expected to keep a close watch on the post-Gusmao environment; it is no coincidence that his name, a nom de guerre, translates as ‘Two Eyes Watching’.
East Timor’s foreign relations are unlikely to shift under the new regime, with perhaps the new Prime Minister being slightly less combative than Gusmao has, on occasion, been in the past. Araujo is widely regarded as consiliatory, although this should not be taken as a sign of softness in protecting East Timor’s interests.
There is also hope that the Greater Sunrise LNG field dispute, worth tens of billions of dollars, may be resolved under the new government. However, there is no particular indication this will be the case.
More importantly, however, East Timor will continue to push ahead with its desire to see a permanent maritime boundary established between it and Australia. As Gusmao was resigning, East Timor’s parliament passed a law establishing a maritime council which will have oversight of settling permanent boundaries with Australia. If successful, this will mean overturning the current 50-year arrangement in which the resources of the Timor Gap are shared between the two countries, based on an earlier Indonesian agreement that favored Australia.
While Australia has opposed such a move, it has agreed to enter into discussions over the boundary question outside a judicial setting. This has been variously interpreted as East Timor believing it is getting closer to some form of agreement, or Australia just buying time. Whatever the circumstances, this is not likely to destabilise other elements of the bilateral relationship, which East Timor is keen to maintain.
East Timor has faced the challenges common to many, perhaps most, newly independent states. But it now appears that it might now be moving past initial teething problems.
With an orderly transition from the leadership of the country’s dominant political actor, it may be that East Timor is now moving towards a phase in its development when it can concentrate on planning its future rather than be distracted by its present. It will need to, if it is to survive the challenges of improving the livelihoods of its people, and sustainably manage the all-important petroleum fund that underpins the country’s economy.
- See more at: http://www.policyforum.net/a-changing-landscape/#sthash.OSoz5SRm.dpuf
The resignation from office by East Timor’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, was not unexpected. He had flagged his intentions over the past year. But it has sent shock waves throughout East Timor, where many believe his departure will create an unfillable political void.
Yet East Timor is likely to remain stable in an immediate post-Gusmao environment, rather than return to the chaos of 2006-07. And it will probably retain its democratic hue, if in a modified form.
Gusmao has been the towering figure in East Timorese politics since assuming leadership of resistance to Indonesian occupation in 1981. After his capture in 1992, Gusmao led the resistance from prison in Jakarta, becoming a cult-like figure within East Timor and beyond.
His misinterpretation of what was to become East Timor’s constitution saw him become a non-executive president in 2002. Prime minister Mari Alkatiri’s mishandling of a fragile domestic environment led to open violence in 2006, which saw Gusmao reassert his political authority, forcing Alkatiri to resign.
A Gusmao-led coalition won the 2008 elections, and he became prime minister. He was re-elected in 2012. In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, Gusmao’s anointed candidate – first Jose Ramos-Horta and then Taur Matan Ruak – were elected as president. His authority seemed all but unassailable.
However, even after the 2008 elections, there was a view that the “generation of 75” political leaders should start to make way for the “young generation”. Over the past couple of years, Gusmao has increasingly looked to them for successors.
Since 2008, Gusmao has been both the key stabiliser of East Timorese politics and a centralising force in political decision-making. He has attracted criticism for personalising power, yet East Timor’s ministers have often been inept and, without central decision making, little would have been achieved. As it is, East Timor’s development record is mixed, improving off a low human base but with major projects running over time and over bud
There has also been extensive criticism of blossoming official corruption under Gusmao’s prime ministership. This has been directed primarily at the awarding of government contracts to family members of cabinet ministers.
The long expected cabinet shake-up currently underway is expected to remove a number of ministers under investigation for corruption, as well as reduce the size of cabinet from 53 – an unwieldy number, arguably bloated.
The first likely outcome of this cabinet shake-up is that, after having been cast into the political wilderness in 2008, senior members of leftist political party Fretilin will likely be included in a new “government of national unity”. The most likely successor to Gusmao as prime minister is the popular former Fretilin deputy-prime minister and health minister Rui Araujo.
Although aged 50, Araujo is seen as one of the “young generation” of political leaders. He is popular with most East Timorese, is regarded as having considerable personal capacity, and is seen as a potential consensus prime minister. His appointment would then go a long way to ensuring the country’s continued stability.
Gusamo has said that he will remain in the political background, possibly as senior minister, to ensure that the succession goes smoothly. If there is a serious threat of the country returning to chaos he, and president Taur Matan Ruak, would be prepared to step back in.
A unity government is likely to satisfy most major political actors, but it is also likely to leave East Timor without a viable opposition. There is, however, a view among many East Timorese that opposition breeds conflict and that consensus fits better with traditional decision-making.
The experience of political fronts – or dominant parties without viable opposition elsewhere – is that they tend towards a lack of accountability, corruption and sometimes intolerance of dissent. This may be an issue that East Timor could face if it retains a “government of national unity” into the longer term.
For now, Gusmao has shown that charismatic, dominant leaders can choose the timing of their political departure, and can better manage the transition from a position of continuing authority rather than its sudden loss.
East Timor is still finding its way along a difficult post-independence path. It is a period in which many other countries stumble or fall. Gusmao choosing his own timing to step down is likely to smooth the transition process. But the many problems of this young and still fragile nation will remain to confront his successor.
The execution in Indonesia of six death row prisoners early last Sunday, including five foreigners, convicted of drug smuggling and the refusal by president Joko Widodo to grant clemency from the death penalty for Myuran Sukumaran has cast into sharp relief his likely fate and that of fellow death row prisoner Andrew Chan.
Chan's appeal for clemency has not yet been decided by President Widodo but, consistent with his decision on Sukumaran, he has said that he will not grant clemency to convicted drug smugglers.
Widodo, or 'Jokowi' as he is better known, came to the Indonesian presidency last year as a reformist and with what was understood to be a human rights agenda. Human rights advocates in Indonesia have been dismayed by his refusal to grant clemency in death row cases.
From Jokowi's perspective, however, there are two issues driving him in these cases. Both are compelling, if for different reasons, and both play against Australian calls for clemency.
The first issue is that Jokowi came to office on a clear 'reform' platform, which includes both respect for the rule of law and opposition to interference in the judicial process. Indonesia's judiciary has long been regarded as compromised by special interests, including political pressure, so Jokowi's refusal to involve himself in judicial matters is consistent with his view of reform.
As a country which opposes the death penalty on principle, Australia's government is obliged to seek clemency on behalf of its citizens. Australia's political leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, have done so, no doubt sincerely, but knowing their chances of success are limited.
As importantly, the death penalty applies equally to Indonesian citizens as foreigners, and any sense that there should be an inconsistency on this basis is repugnant to many Indonesians. In particular, many Indonesians' often well-developed sense of national pride would be deeply offended by any such a double-standard.
Jokowi is not only sensitive to this, but also sensitive to the fact that Indonesia's legislature, the DPR, is overwhelmingly stacked with his opponents. If he wishes to proceed with his reform agenda, he will require the DPR's cooperation.
Many DPR members are focusing closely on Jokowi's public acts and would be quick to pounce if there was even a hint of a double-standard. Indeed, there is even a chance that Jokowi could be impeached, as happened to one of his predecessors, president Abdurrahman Wahid. Public pressure within Indonesia, then, while often not explicit, is great.
How Australia represents its case for clemency is also critical. If Australia's appeal is too private then it can be dismissed without much ado. For Australia's domestic audience, too, the Australian Government would be seen to be doing too little for Australian citizens facing execution.
However, if Australian representations are too strong, it could engender a nationalist backlash. This would have the effect of further compelling Jokowi to reject any call for clemency that he might otherwise have been considering.
Australia's political leaders know there is little they can realistically do to alter the circumstances that Sukumaran and Chan now find themselves in. The only hope, such as it is, is that at this stage Chan's appeal for presidential clemency has not yet been rejected.
Indonesia's practice is that, when more than one person is sentenced to death for the same offence, the penalty is carried out simultaneously. Sukumaran last opportunity for appeal has failed, but Chan has not yet been notified of the same outcome. While Chan remains alive, so does Sukumaran.
However, if and when Chan's appeal for clemency is rejected by the president, the process will move relatively quickly. Probably within weeks, the pair will be given three days notification of their execution in order to finalise any outstanding business. They will then be taken to an execution ground and shot by a 12 man firing squad.
Despite the crimes for which Sukumaran and Chan have been convicted, there is a sense shared by many that the impersonal process of the state - any state - taking someone's life is bureaucratically grotesque. Yet, as various foreign ministers and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have consistently said over many years, Australians overseas will always be subject to the laws on the countries they are in, up to and including the death penalty.
It is little comfort that Sukumaran and Chan's experience is serving as a stark object lesson to others who might be contemplating drug trafficking. It has been a decade since the last Australian, Van Tuong Nguyen, was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore. That death came 12 years after Australian Michael McAuliffe was killed in Malaysia.
It seems, with the passage of time, that such lessons are too easily forgotten. It is likely, however, that Australia will soon be reminded.