Humans light 85% of bushfires, and we do virtually nothing to stop it


Janet Stanley, University of Melbourne

It’s hard to comprehend why someone would deliberately light a bushfire. Yet this behaviour regularly occurs in Australia and other countries. We would go a long way to preventing bushfires if we better understood this troubling phenomenon.

Experts estimate about 85% of bushfires are caused by humans. A person may accidentally or carelessly start a fire, such as leaving a campfire unattended or using machinery which creates sparks. Or a person could maliciously light a fire.

This criminal behaviour is not widely recognised or understood by the public, fire authorities or researchers. This means opportunities to prevent bushfires are generally being missed and resources devoted to tackling the cause are far from commensurate with the devastating consequences.

The 2013 fire at Wallan, Victoria, was thought to be deliberately lit.
MARK DADSWELL/AAP

Profile of an arsonist

Research has shown about 8% of officially recorded vegetation fires were attributed to malicious lighting, and another 22% as suspicious. However, about 40% of officially recorded vegetation fires did not have an assigned cause. When unassigned bushfires were investigated by fire investigators, the majority were found to be maliciously lit.

But official fires are just the tip of the iceberg: the actual number of bushfires in Australia is thought to be about five times that recorded. Virtually none of these unrecorded fires are investigated.

Young men comprise the largest group of people who maliciously light fires. These youth are usually troubled, likely to have absent fathers and little home supervision. They are likely to have experienced child abuse and neglect and associated with an antisocial peer group. Lighting fires may give a feeling of excitement, defiance and power, or it may be an expression of displaced anger. Some offenders have an intellectual disability.




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A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire


Offenders may make no attempt to extinguish the fire, and give little consideration to the consequences. Some may have no feelings of remorse or fear of punishment. Others may never have intended to create such wide devastation.

Older males who light malicious fires also have a history of social and educational disadvantage, poor family functioning in childhood, low self-esteem, and often a pathological interest in fire. However the older the person gets, the less likely they are to light fires.

Convicted Black Saturday arsonist Brendan James Sokaluk arriving at the Supreme Court in Melbourne.
Julian Smith/AAP

So why don’t we talk about arson?

During last week’s east-coast bushfire crisis, a handful of news reports covered people lighting fires. They include a teenager who allegedly lit a Queensland bushfire that razed 14 homes, and a man charged with starting a Sydney fire by letting off fireworks.

Media attention on a fire’s cause is generally scant and the public rarely hears much beyond initial charges being laid. This is in stark contrast to blanket news coverage of the consequences of bushfires.




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A staggeringly low apprehension and conviction rate for offenders – less than 1% – is a further barrier to public awareness of the problem. Conviction rarely leads to a substantial punishment.

Fire brigades in most states offer a limited education course for some children who light fires, usually led by volunteers. But there are few targeted treatment programs for those who light bushfires.

Firefighters near Sydney in November 2019 conducting controlled burning – a common fire mitigation method.
Jeremy Piper/AAP

Rethinking the bushfire problem

Rather than tackling the cause of the problem, the major response to bushfire in Australia is mitigation. This largely involves one blunt approach: hazard reduction burns to reduce bushfire fuel loads. This is an increasingly difficult task as climate change makes weather conditions more unsuitable for controlled burns.

This business-as-usual approach has not halted the upward trajectory of bushfire ignitions.




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A much greater focus on prevention would require a significant rethinking of the bushfire problem. This would include collaboration between government, business, non-government organisations, communities and others.

Victoria’s Gippsland Arson Prevention Program provides a promising model. Through public education, media engagement and other means, it informs communities on how to help prevent arson. The committee includes Victoria Police, government and fire authorities and local power generators.

In one example of an on-the-ground response, local authorities organised the removal of dumped cars, which are commonly seen by bored and troubled youth as an invitation to start a fire.

Arson prevention also includes addressing long-term problems such as youth disadvantage and unemployment, especially in rural-urban fringe areas where most human-lit fires occur.

Shorter-term approaches include providing support and treatment to at-risk youth, and situational crime prevention such as good lighting and cameras in places vulnerable to fire lighting.

We must open up a society-wide discussion of bushfire prevention, which includes listening to local communities about what they value and what can be done about the problem. As climate change worsens – and bushfires along with it – a radical rethink is required.The Conversation

Janet Stanley, Associate professor/Principal Research Fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What did the High Court decide in the Pell case? And what happens now?


Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology

Two judges in the High Court of Australia this morning referred Cardinal George Pell’s application for special leave to appeal his convictions to a full bench of the High Court.

While not a full grant of special leave, this is favourable to Pell, as dismissing the application would have finalised the case and his convictions.

When the High Court hears the case in coming months, it can reject or grant the special leave application. If granted, it can then allow or dismiss the appeal.

The case is exceptionally complex and the final outcome is difficult to predict. Allowing leave to appeal does not guarantee the appeal will succeed. Here is what might happen next.

What happened with the convictions?

In December 2018, a jury unanimously found Pell guilty of five sexual offences against two 13-year-old choirboys, committed when he was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996-97. The offences were one count of sexual penetration of a child aged under 16 through forced oral sex, and four counts of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child aged under 16. He was sentenced to six years’ prison with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

What happened with the failed appeal?

In August 2019, Victoria’s Court of Appeal dismissed Pell’s appeal against these convictions by a 2:1 majority decision. The background is summarised elsewhere. The key issue was whether the verdicts were “unreasonable” or could not be supported on the evidence. The question was whether, given the evidence, it was “open to the jury” to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt the accused was guilty.

It is not enough to overturn a guilty verdict if the court merely finds a jury “might have” had a reasonable doubt. Rather, the court must find that, on its assessment of the evidence, it was not open to the jury to have been satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. So the evidence must have “obliged” the jury to reach a not guilty verdict. Because of the jury’s role as tribunal of fact, setting aside a guilty verdict is “a serious step” (see the case M v R).

The majority judges, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell, concluded the guilty verdicts were open to the jury. They did not have a doubt about the complainant’s truthfulness or the cardinal’s guilt. They made crucial findings after careful and cogent reasoning, considering each aspect of the defence case.




Read more:
George Pell has lost his appeal. What did the court decide and what happens now?


First, the complainant was credible and reliable. His account was consistent and detailed. His recalled detail of the sacristy layout enhanced his credibility and independently confirmed his account, as it was not normally used by the archbishop.

Second, the majority judges evaluated each defence claim individually and collectively. They rejected the claim that the “opportunity” testimony (defence witnesses’ statements about where they, Pell and the choirboys would likely have been at relevant times) made the guilty verdicts unreasonable. Essentially, this testimony was not deemed sufficiently strong to make the verdict unreasonable or “not open”. Its effect was “of uncertainty and imprecision”. There was evidence showing “a realistic opportunity” for the offending.

The dissenting judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, gave extensive reasons. On his interpretation of the “opportunity” testimony – including statements by two witnesses about customarily being with Pell at relevant times – there was a “reasonable possibility” of an effective alibi for the first four offences. Weinberg himself had “a genuine doubt” about Pell’s guilt, thought there was a “significant possibility” the offences had not been committed, and inferred the jury ought to have had this doubt.

The application for special leave to appeal to the High Court

The High Court does not lightly give leave to appeal. It can only grant leave if:

  • the proceedings involve a question of legal principle; or

  • the interests of the administration of justice (generally, or here) require consideration of the earlier judgment.

Pell’s team made two arguments, relying on the dissenting judgment. First, they argued the majority’s approach to the “open to the jury” test was wrong, effectively requiring the applicant to exclude any possibility of the offending to have occurred, which reversed the onus and standard of proof. They also argued the majority’s belief in the complainant was not enough to overcome doubts raised by the opportunity testimony, and the alibi evidence had not been eliminated.

Second, they argued there was sufficient doubt about whether the offending was possible. This, they said, made the verdicts unreasonable, given the complainant’s account required them to be alone in the sacristy for five to six minutes. They argued that after mass and five to six minutes of “private prayer time” there was a “hive of activity” near the sacristy, and the majority incorrectly found it was reasonably open to the jury to find the offending happened during this period.

The director of public prosecutions argued there simply was no such error by the majority in applying the test, and the verdicts were not unreasonable.

In large part, the special leave application turned on the different approaches to whether the “opportunity evidence” was sufficiently strong to create enough doubt that it was “not open to the jury” to find Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt.




Read more:
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What did the High Court say?

The transcript had not been released at the time of writing, but the two judges referred the application for special leave to hearing by a full bench (five or seven members) for argument as on an appeal. There, the full High Court can reject or grant the special leave application.

On one view, this is surprising. Applications arguing an unreasonable verdict in child sexual offence cases are typically dismissed (for example, O’Brien; in contrast GAX).

The High Court generally does not grant leave simply due to an alternative interpretation of the facts. The majority judgment in the appeal accurately stated the test. It applied the test by carefully analysing all the arguments and testimony individually and collectively, applying cogent reasoning in independently assessing the sufficiency and quality of the evidence. It weighed the evidence and expressed an independent conclusion about whether on all the evidence it was open to the jury to be satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, the two High Court judges may reasonably feel there are important issues of legal principle and justice to consider, and that such a significant case warrants full consideration at all levels by the entire court.

What happens now?

The full hearing of the special leave application will occur in 2020. If leave is then granted, the appeal will proceed. If the appeal succeeds, the court can grant a new trial, or reverse or modify the prior judgment.

However, if special leave is refused at the full hearing, or granted but the appeal fails, the convictions stand and no further appeal is possible.




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Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


For the complainant and many survivors, especially of clergy abuse, this decision will be confronting. They will hopefully be able to draw on reserves of resilience, hope, and any support services if necessary, while awaiting the High Court’s final decision.The Conversation

Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Myanmar might finally be held accountable for genocide, but the court case must recognise sexual violence


Susan Hutchinson, Australian National University

It has been more than two years since “clearance operations” by Myanmar’s security forces, the Tatmadaw, forced more than 700,000 Rohingya across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh.

During this time, the UN Security Council has remained silent on the plight of Rohingya, with China and Russia working to keep it off the council’s agenda.




Read more:
Explainer: why the UN has found Myanmar’s military committed genocide against the Rohingya


But at the UN General Assembly last month, The Gambia announced it would take the Myanmar government to the International Court of Justice for the genocide of the Rohingya.

Vice-President Isatou Touray said The Gambia is:

a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond. […] The Gambia is ready to lead the concerted efforts for taking the Rohingya issue to the International Court of Justice on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and we are calling on all stakeholders to support this process.

Myanmar might finally be held accountable, but defending the Rohingya from genocide shouldn’t just be left to the global Islamic community. They need to be joined by countries with an interest in reducing the sexual and gender based violence at the core of the Tatmadaw’s genocidal campaign.

Otherwise, these important issues may not be sufficiently included in the case due to regional religious politics.

Sexual and gender violence

Last year, a Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission report detailed serious breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law by members of the Tatmadaw, including killing, rape, torture, arson and forced displacement.

The report also detailed how the Myanmar government, as a whole, was responsible for perpetrating these crimes, and should be held to account.

‘An OIC film on the Rohingya issue, a continuing tragedy of human rights violations and unimaginable humanitarian suffering’

In an additional report released in August this year, the fact-finding mission found sexual and gender based violence was:

part of a deliberate, well-planned strategy to intimidate, terrorise
and punish a civilian population.

The sheer volume of pregnant women in the refugee camps was one early indicator of the extent to which sexual violence was used against women and girls. But the mission also found it was used against men, boys and trans people.

In their view, acts of sexual and gender based violence were committed as genocide.




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In general, the UN Security Council has recognised the use of sexual violence as genocide, but they haven’t tied it to the crisis in Myanmar.

The council has passed nine resolutions on women, peace and security. Among other things, these resolutions call for the protection of women and girls, men and boys from conflict-related sexual violence, and urge countries to end to impunity for these crimes.

So, it is of the utmost importance that the sexual- and gender-based violence used in the genocide is accounted for in any International Court of Justice (ICJ) case.

How can the ICJ help?

The ICJ adjudicates between states, not individuals. Although individuals commit genocidal acts, under the Genocide Convention of 1948, states also have responsibility for preventing and punishing the crime of genocide.

Myanmar signed the UN’s Genocide Convention in 1957, which contains an article giving the ICJ jurisdiction if another state thinks they’ve breached their obligations.

This means once the case comes before the court, it can make rulings within a matter of days that would be binding on the government of Myanmar, the Security Council, or both. What’s more, it can begin almost immediately and can have immediate effect inside Myanmar.




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This could make a big difference for Rohingya still inside Myanmar who are experiencing the ongoing genocide.

An ICJ case could also serve as a way to recognise and remedy the collective harm of the sexual- and gender-based violence, not just the harm experienced by individuals.

International efforts

The Gambia has called on other countries to join it in taking a case against Myanmar to the ICJ. Canadian civil society and parliamentarians have been working to convince their government to bring such a case for more than a year. Importantly, a case from Canada against Myanmar would include sexual- and gender-based violence.

And there are a range of reasons why Canada would step forward in support of The Gambia’s case. Taking such action would align with Canada’s foreign policy objectives, such as those on human rights and women, peace and security.




Read more:
World must act to end the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar


Canada is also campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council, but they have stiff competition from Ireland and Norway.

Taking Myanmar to the ICJ would show Canada is a strong international actor, able to work for the good of global peace and security, navigating the full set of challenges posed by the permanent members of the Security Council.

But other countries can – and should – support The Gambia’s case and ensure the inclusion of sexual and gender-based violence in a range of ways.

ICJ cases are usually long and costly. Interested countries could offer financial assistance for The Gambia’s case. They can also join the case as co-applicants in support of The Gambia’s leadership.




Read more:
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Lastly, once the case is lodged, the court allows other countries to intervene. Countries unwilling to come forward as co-applicants could ensure gendered and sexual violence issues are included by making just such an intervention.

At the Security Council later this month, UN Member States will have the opportunity to participate in the annual open debate on women, peace and security.

By then, someone must surely be able to stand up and say:

we stand with The Gambia, we will take the government of Myanmar to the International Court of Justice, to hold them to account for the sexual and gender based violence they perpetrated as genocide against the Rohingya.The Conversation

Susan Hutchinson, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

George Pell has lost his appeal. What did the court decide and what happens now?



George Pell’s appeal on child sexual abuse convictions has been dismissed.
AAP/Erik Anderson

Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology

Victoria’s Court of Appeal today delivered one of the most significant judgments in Australian legal history, dismissing Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against convictions for five child sex offences.

Given Pell’s seniority in the Catholic Church as a former Vatican treasurer, the case is also of worldwide significance. The appeal involved complex legal principles. Here is what you need to know to understand the judgment.

What happened before this appeal?

In December 2018, a jury unanimously found Pell guilty of five sexual offences against two 13-year-old boys, committed while Archbishop of Melbourne. As detailed in the sentencing remarks of County Court Chief Judge Kidd in March 2019, Pell was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child aged under 16 through forced oral sex, and four counts of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child aged under 16.

The first offences were committed in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral after mass in December 1996. The final offence was committed against one of the boys around one month later. Both victims were choirboys and recipients of choral scholarships at an elite school.




Read more:
We knew George Pell was guilty of child sex abuse. Why couldn’t we say it until now?


Pell was sentenced to six years’ prison with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

In reaching a verdict, the jury relied on detailed evidence of one of the victims about what Pell said and did, and when and where it happened. The other victim began using heroin at age 14 and died of a heroin overdose in 2014, aged 31. This man’s death prompted the surviving victim, aged in his early 30s, to approach police in 2015.

Is it normal for survivors of child sexual abuse to delay disclosure?

Yes. Survivors often disclose only after a significant delay and are reluctant to tell legal authorities. Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that, for those in private interviews, 57% first disclosed as adults and it took an average of 31.9 years to disclose.

A 2013 study of 487 men whose mean age of onset of abuse was 10, found the mean age when first telling was 32.

Is it a problem that the prosecution relied on the complainant’s evidence?

No. Child sexual abuse typically is inflicted in secret, without other evidence, so prosecutions often depend heavily on complainant testimony. The law recognises this: evidence does not have to be corroborated, and the judge must not warn the jury it is dangerous to act on uncorroborated evidence.

Juries make judgments based on the complainant account’s credibility, consistency, detail and truthfulness, and responses and demeanour in cross-examination.

What did Pell argue in the appeal?

There were three grounds of appeal. Two were procedural or technical: the plea of not guilty was not made in the presence of the jury panel; and the defence was not permitted to play a “visual representation” of part of its argument in its closing address.

Essentially, both arguments claimed a “substantial miscarriage of justice”. The court unanimously rejected these arguments.

But the main argument was that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable or cannot be supported having regard to the evidence”. Pell’s appeal argued it was not open to the jury to be satisfied of guilt, beyond reasonable doubt, based solely on the word of the complainant.

It also argued that it was not possible for Pell to have been in the sacristy either at all, or by himself; it was not possible for the boys to have been in the sacristy unnoticed; and the robes he wore made it impossible to offend in the way claimed.

What was the Court of Appeal required to do when considering this argument?

The law is complex, and whether a verdict is “unreasonable” depends on legal technicalities, not intuitive instincts. Four legal principles need to be understood here.

First, and most important, there is a very high threshold for a court to overturn a jury’s guilty verdict for being unreasonable (see, for example, M or Baden-Clay). This is because, in Australian law, the jury is the constitutional tribunal of fact responsible for deciding guilt or innocence. A verdict will only be overturned in exceptional circumstances showing a clear miscarriage of justice.

Second, the test is whether, on the evidence, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt the accused was guilty.

To win the appeal, the appellant must show the guilty verdict was not open to the jury. It is not sufficient for the court to find a jury might have had reasonable doubt. The evidence must mean no reasonable jury could have returned a guilty verdict; it must have “obliged” them to reach a not guilty verdict.

Third, the appeal court does not retry the case – again, because the jury is the tribunal of fact. The court must independently assess the evidence, but to determine whether the guilty verdict was open to the jury; not simply whether the court itself has a doubt.

Fourth, if a complainant is credible and reliable and the account is detailed, consistent and plausible, it is difficult for an appeal to succeed. On plausibility, courts have accepted that sexual offending can be brazen, influenced by the abuser’s arrogance, power and belief the child will not make a complaint.

What did the Court of Appeal say about this?

The judges rejected it by a majority of two to one. They found the guilty verdicts were reasonable, because they were open to the jury on the whole of the evidence.

The court said there was nothing about the evidence that meant the jury must have had reasonable doubt. It was not enough that one or more jurors might have had a doubt. Moreover, the court did not itself have such a doubt.

The complainant was found to be compelling, clearly not a liar or fantasist, and a witness of truth. He did not embellish the evidence or tailor it to the prosecution. He adequately explained things he could not remember and his explanations had a ring of truth.

What can happen now?

Pell can seek special leave to appeal to the High Court. If the High Court denies permission, the matter is finalised; if given, it will later deliver a final judgment.




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The Catholic Church is investigating George Pell’s case. What does that mean?


Save for a successful appeal in the High Court, Pope Francis will likely expel Pell from the priesthood. The family of the second survivor is suing him and or the church for civil damages, as may others. Pell will remain in jail.

It is exceptionally difficult for survivors of child sexual abuse to bring successful criminal complaints, especially against powerful offenders. This judgment may encourage other courageous survivors to make complaints.

Yet many systemic reforms are still required to better facilitate prosecutions of child sexual offences.The Conversation

Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Despite China’s denials, its treatment of the Uyghurs should be called what it is: cultural genocide



Uyghurs in Australia are pressing Canberra to take a firmer stance with China on its treatment of the Muslim minority. Thus far, Australia’s response has been relatively muted.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

James Leibold, La Trobe University

As China grows more powerful and influential, our New Superpower series looks at what this means for the world – how China maintains its power, how it wields its power and how its power might be threatened. Read the rest of the series here.


In China’s far western region of Xinjiang, Chinese Communist Party officials are persecuting one of the worst human rights abuses of our time, what I labelled an act of cultural genocide in last week’s ABC Four Corners report.

Pressure is mounting on the Australian government to go beyond statements of concern and challenge China over its treatment of the Uyghur minority, particularly those Australian citizens and permanent residents being held in the vast network of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang.

Two Australian Uyghur men are meeting federal politicians in Canberra today to push for the government’s assistance in helping family members trapped in China.

Australia was one of 22 countries to sign a recent letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concern about the “arbitrary detention” of Uyghurs, but otherwise, its response has been muted.

In recent days, the Chinese government has defended its actions with a dubious propaganda report claiming that Uyghurs were historically forced to become Muslims and have been an integral part of China for thousands of years.

China repeatedly makes false and anachronistic claims like this about the ancient unity of the “Chinese people,” which includes ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs. Its aim is to project modern notions of sovereignty, nationhood and fixed borders back through history.

In reality, the 11 million or so Uyghurs are an indigenous Turkic-speaking people who have inhabited what they call “East Turkestan” for over a millennium. Along with the Tibetans, the Uyghurs have born the brunt of China’s settler colonial project, which seeks to assert its control over remote regions that are closer to Moscow and Tehran than Beijing.

Since March 2017, the Chinese government has interned over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in massive, prison-like camps (including possibly 17 Australian residents), where they are subjected to coercive ideological remoulding.

Detainees are forced to denounce their religion, forbidden to speak their language, and taught how to adopt the norms of China’s Han ethnic majority, while praising President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party for salvation.

In their own words, party officials are “washing brains” and “cleansing hearts” in order to “cure” those bewitched by extremist thoughts. In Xinjiang today, non-Han thoughts and behaviour are pathologised as deviant and thus in need of urgent transformation.

What is genocide?

A litany of words and phrases have been used to describe this process. The Chinese government calls the camps free “vocational education and training centres” where Uyghurs willingly learn Chinese language and employment skills in order to assist with their “rehabilitation and reintegration”.

Scholars, journalists and rights defenders have spoken about cultural and religious “persecution” in Xinjiang, arguing the party-state’s policies amount to mass ethnic cleansing, cultural re-engineering, forced assimilation, brainwashing, or even ethnocide.

In August 2018, Gay McDougall, the vice chair of UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, referred to Xinjiang as a “no-rights zone”.

Yet, I believe the scale, sophistication and intent of China’s policies in Xinjiang merits a stronger description.




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The term genocide was coined by lawyer Rafael Lemkin in 1944 in reaction to Nazi Germany’s coordinated strategy to annihilate the Jews, gypsies and other non-Aryan peoples. Four years later, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, with Australia one of the first counties to ratify it. The People’s Republic of China ratified it in 1983.

The convention defines genocide as

acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group

It also obligates signatories to punish those who engage in genocidal acts through a “competent” domestic or international penal tribunal.

Whether genocide includes only physical acts or can extend to attacks on cultural heritage has elicited intense debate, but for Lemkin, the term includes

drastic methods aimed at the rapid and complete disappearance of the culture, moral and religious life of a group of human beings.

Genocide also requires specific intent. In the words of political scientists Kenneth J. Campbell, genocide is a

premeditated, calculated, systematic, malicious crime authorised by the state’s political leaders.

This is exactly what Communist Party officials did when they authorised and then legalised the mass internment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in “concentrated transformation-through-education centres,” ripping more than 10% of the population away from their communities so they could be deliberately re-programmed.

Various methods for erasing culture

Yet, facts arguably matter more than words when it comes to China’s policies in Xinjiang.

We now have ample evidence (including internal party documents) of the deliberate efforts to destroy Uyghur culture and identity. Everyday actions like avoiding pork, speaking Uyghur, wearing a headscarf or praying quietly are now labelled “manifestations of religious extremism,” or what party officials call “malignant tumors” requiring urgent excising in a radical form of cultural surgery.

In the city of Kashgar, for example, a party document highlights the need to sever the lineages, roots and cultural connections of Uyghurs in order to eliminate the fountainhead of potential extremism.

German researcher Adrian Zenz has uncovered evidence of the party’s efforts to separate Uyghur children from their parents in state institutions, where they can be assimilated and indoctrinated by officials. In these institutions, cultural, religious, and linguistic knowledge is intentionally ruptured.




Read more:
Explainer: who are the Uyghurs and why is the Chinese government detaining them?


In some parts of Xinjiang, mosques and shrines are being bulldozed, while others are transformed into empty sites guarded by facial recognition cameras and imams on the party payroll.

In the name of strengthening “bilingual education”, Chinese is now the language of instruction across Xinjiang, from preschool to university. The use of Uyghur language, script, signs and pictures prohibited. Speaking Uyghur is now considered unpatriotic and can get one sent off for re-education.

Perhaps most disturbing, inter-ethnic marriages are being actively promoted to slowly breed out Uyghurness, with cash and other material inducements offered to Han men who take a Uyghur bride.

One can find numerous videos and messages promoting Han-Uyghur inter-marriage on Chinese social media, asserting Xinjiang is now safe and home to many beautiful and eligible Uyghur women who would appreciate a doting Han husband.

Finally, the Chinese government has intensified its family planning regime in Xinjiang to slow the growth of the Uyghur population and eliminate what party officials call “low quality births”.

Beginning in 2017, the region adopted a uniform two children policy that nullified preferential rules allowing rural Uyghur women to have additional births. In the past, Uyghur women were given 3,000 RMB (roughtly A$620) to forgo a third birth and agree to some sort of “long-term contraceptive measure.”

The Communist Party’s calculated war on Uyghur identity is quite literally tearing families and communities apart, while the rich tradition of diversity and tolerance in China is left in tatters.

The resilient nature of culture and memory means that attempts at genocide, thankfully, are rarely successful. Yet the pain they inflict is real.The Conversation

James Leibold, Associate Professor of Politics and Asian Studies, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s a new era for Australia’s whistleblowers – in the private sector



Whistleblowing will always take some type of toll, but it need not be career suicide.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Dennis Gentilin, Macquarie University

As strange as it might sound, whistleblowers in Australia have reason to rejoice – so long as they are in the private sector.

Thanks to new laws that came into effect this month, private-sector whistleblowers have a range of new protections. This includes, in certain prescribed circumstances, the prospect of being compensated if they experience adverse outcomes after taking their concerns to the the media.

The timing is ironic, given last month Australia’s federal police launched raids on journalists and media outlets who received and published disclosures from public-sector whistleblowers. If identified and prosecuted, those whistleblowers could face lengthy prison sentences.




Read more:
Why the raids on Australian media present a clear threat to democracy


In fact, private-sector whistleblowers now have, for the first time, greater protection than their public-sector counterparts.

What the new laws do

The catalyst for the new laws was a parliamentary inquiry into whistleblower protection established in November 2016. The inquiry’s final report, published in September 2017, made a total of 35 recommendations. Though 19 were rejected by the federal government, the outcome is still a vast improvement on the previous provisions.

For the first time, federal legislation now defines, in broad terms, the following.

Who qualifies as a whistleblower. The list of those protected for making disclosures goes beyond company officers and employees. It includes suppliers, employees of suppliers, and relatives and dependants of officers, employees and suppliers.

What is a disclosable matter. Whistleblower protection isn’t just for disclosing illegal conduct. It also covers “misconduct” or an “improper state of affairs” (not including concerns about personal work-related grievances).

Who to make a disclosure to. To qualify for protection, whistleblowers no longer need to raise their concern through a “formal” whistleblowing channel. They can go to any officer or senior manager in a company, or to an auditor, or to regulators. Disclosures to journalists and members of parliament also qualify for protection in certain prescribed circumstances.

What constitutes detriment. Detrimental outcomes for whistleblowing are not constrained to dismissal or demotion. They include discrimination, harassment or intimidation, harm or injury (including psychological), and damage to property, financial position or reputation.




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Above all, the legislation empowers the courts to order payment of compensation to whistleblowers who experience detriment. To avoid any liability, organisations must demonstrate they have taken steps to protect whistleblowers.

Promoting protection

The prevailing view is that whistleblowing is a sure path to career suicide. The stories that loom large in the public consciousness are those of whistleblowers who, despite acting in the best interests of the organisations that employ them, are ostracised and abandoned.

Whistleblowing, to be sure, is an arduous undertaking that will always take some type of toll. But this prevailing narrative of significant adverse consequences is misleading.

I say this for two reasons.

The first is personal. In 2004, I was one of the whistleblowers in a major governance failure at the National Australia Bank. It led to four colleagues being jailed and senior executives resigning. Despite this, I went on to spend a further 12 years at the bank. The bank endorsed a book I subsequently wrote about the origins of ethical failure. Chairman Ken Henry even wrote the foreword.

The second, more importantly, is the evidence. The world-leading Whistling While They Work Research Project at Griffith University surveyed close to 18,000 people working in public and private sector organisations across Australia and New Zealand. Of the 4,382 respondents who reported wrongdoing in their organisations, 21% said they were treated well by both management and colleagues, compared to less than 13% who said they were treated badly.



There is no denying whistleblowers sometimes pay a significant price, but these results show positive outcomes are possible.

Beyond ‘tick-the-box’ compliance

The new whistleblowing laws aim to increase those positive outcomes and provide avenues for compensation when whistleblowers aren’t treated well.

The challenge for organisations now is making this happen.

A first step is to put in place a whistleblower policy. The legislation requires that all publicly listed and large proprietary companies have one. Among other things, the policy must detail:

  • the internal channels through which whistleblowers can make disclosures
  • how thorough, independent investigations will be conducted
  • how the interests of the whistleblower will be protected.

As important as formal whistleblowing policies and programs are, however, they are not sufficient. Any “tick-the-box” compliance approach will inevitably fail to promote positive outcomes for whistleblowers without an ethical culture.




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Organisations must work hard to create environments that support those who raise concerns, and where leaders listen and take action. This will reduce potential liabilities for organisations and help shift the prevailing narrative surrounding whistleblowing.

We are now in a new era for private sector whistleblowers. Of course, the true litmus test will be when the laws are tested in the courts. But my hope is not just that the courts richly (and deservedly) compensate whistleblowers who suffer detriment. I hope the legislation is a catalyst for organisations to create environments that support whistleblowers, recognising the tremendous value they bring to any workplace.The Conversation

Dennis Gentilin, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Governments are making fake news a crime – but it could stifle free speech


Alana Schetzer, University of Melbourne

The rapid spread of fake news can influence millions of people, impacting elections and financial markets. A study on the impact of fake news on the 2016 US presidential election, for instance, has found that fake news stories about Hillary Clinton was “very strongly linked” to the defection of voters who supported Barack Obama in the previous election.

To stem the rising influence of fake news, some countries have made the creation and distribution of deliberately false information a crime.

Singapore is the latest country to have passed a law against fake news, joining others like Germany, Malaysia, France and Russia.




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But using the law to fight the wave of fake news may not be the best approach. Human rights activists, legal experts and others fear these laws have the potential to be misused to stifle free speech, or unintentionally block legitimate online posts and websites.

Legislating free speech

Singapore’s new law gives government ministers significant powers to determine what is fake news, and the authority to order online platforms to remove content if it’s deemed to be against the public interest.

What is considered to be of public interest is quite broad, but includes threats to security, the integrity of elections, and the public perception of the government. This could be open to abuse. It means any content that could be interpreted as embarrassing or damaging to the government is now open to being labelled fake news.

And free speech and human rights groups are concerned that legally banning fake news could be used as a way to restrict free speech and target whistleblowers.




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Similar problems have arisen in Malaysia and Russia. Both nations have been accused of using their respective laws against fake news to further censor free speech, especially criticism of the government.

Malaysia’s previous government outlawed fake news last year, making it a crime punishable by a fine up to 500,000 Malaysian (A$171,000) ringgit or six years’ imprisonment, or both. The new government has vowed to repeal the law, but so far has yet to do so.

Russia banned fake news – which it labels as any information that shows “blatant disrespect” for the state – in April. Noncompliance can carry a jail sentence of 15 days.

Discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate content

But the problems that come with legislating against fake news is not restricted to countries with questionable track records of electoral integrity and free speech.

Even countries like Germany are facing difficulties enforcing their laws in a way that doesn’t unintentionally also target legitimate content.

Germany’s law came into effect on January 1, 2018. It targets social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and requires them to remove posts featuring hate speech or fake information within 24 hours. A platform that fails to adhere to this law may face fines up to 50 million euros.

But the government is now reviewing the law because too much information is being blocked that shouldn’t be.

The Association of German Journalists has complained that social media companies are being too cautious and refusing to publish anything that could be wrongly interpreted under the law. This could lead to increasing self-censorship, possibly of information in the public interest.

In Australia, fake news is also a significant problem, with more and more people unable to distinguish fake news from legitimate reports.

During Australia’s federal election in May, fake news claiming the Labor Party planned on introducing a death tax spread across Facebook and was adopted by the Liberal Party in attack ads.




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But there has been no serious talk of passing a law banning fake news here. Instead, Australian politicians from all sides have been pressuring the biggest social media platforms to be more vigilant and remove fake news before it becomes a problem.

Are there any alternatives to government regulation?

Unlike attempts to limit or ban content in pre-internet days, simply passing a law against fake news may not be the best way to deal with the problem.

The European Union, which is experiencing a rise in support for extreme right-wing political parties, introduced a voluntary code of practice against online disinformation in 2018. Facebook and other social media giants have since signed up.

But there are already concerns the code was “softened” to minimise the amount of content that would need to be removed or edited.

Whenever governments get involved in policing the media – even for the best-intended reasons – there is always the possibility of corruption and a reduction in genuine free speech.

Industry self-regulation is also problematic, as social media companies often struggle to objectively police themselves. Compelling these companies to take responsibility for the content on their sites through fines and other punitive measures, however, could be effective.




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Another alternative is for media industry groups to get involved.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, for instance, has launched the Journalism Trust Initiative, which could lead to a future certification system that would act as a “guarantee” of quality and accuracy for readers. The agreed standards are still being discussed, but will include issues such as company ownership, sources of revenue, independence and ethical compliance.The Conversation

Alana Schetzer, Sessional Tutor and Journalist, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is bottom-pinching still ‘indecent’ by today’s community standards?



File 20190402 177193 1svi03b.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
It wasn’t okay to touch people inappropriately in the 1970s and 80s, and it still isn’t now.
Elen Tkacheva/Shutterstock

Hadeel Al-Alosi, Western Sydney University

In a recent court case in Western Australia, Magistrate Michelle Ridley ruled that “in an era of twerking” and easy access to pornography, it was not an indecent assault when a police officer pinched a woman’s backside.

Here’s what happened. In December 2017, 48-year-old police officer of 17 years, Andrew Ramsden, participated in a yearly wheelchair basketball charity event. After the game, the anonymous complainant asked if she could have a “serious photo” with other members of the police team.




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But when posing for the photo, Ramsden thought it would be funny to startle her by pinching her buttocks, and she jumped forward in surprise when he did so. Ramsden reportedly then said to her either “I hope you take this the right way” or “don’t take this the wrong way”.

He was charged with “unlawfully and indecently assaulting another person” under section 323 of the Criminal Code (WA). And he was eventually found not guilty.

But twerking, grinding, and the easy availability of pornography should never be an excuse for sexual harassment. This argument effectively shifts the blame on victims and implies that the sexualisation of society means women consent to being sexually harassed, which is far from the truth.

And in the era of the #MeToo movement, where women are holding men to account for sexual harassment, it seems the court in the Ramsden case hasn’t caught up to this wider cultural shift.

What is considered ‘indecent’?

Determining if an act is “indecent” requires considering the intention of the accused.




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The courts have stated for an assault to be indecent there

must be a sexual connotation to the activity. It must be an activity which offends community standards of propriety prevailing at the relevant time.

In Ramsden’s case, the magistrate held that the act was not indecent because it was not done for a sexual purpose. And the WA Supreme Court recently upheld the magistrate’s decision, and acquitted him.

The magistrate and the Supreme Court rejected the prosecution’s argument:

the prevailing standards of the community today are that any touching by a man of the buttocks of a woman is inherently indecent.

It has never been okay

Determining community standards is best left to a jury rather than a single judge or magistrate to help ensure “the application of the law is fair and consistent with community standards”. However, no jury was used in Ramsden’s case, so it was up to the magistrate alone to decide whether today’s community would regard pinching a person’s bottom as indecent.

Magistrate Ridley said in the 1970s and 1980s, “a pinch on the bottom was naughty and seen as overtly sexual and inappropriate for that time”. But added nowadays “the thought of a pinch on the bottom is almost a reference to a more genteel time”.

Magistrate Ridley believed pinching a person’s backside lost its overtly sexual connotation “in an era of twerking and grinding, simulated sex and easy access to pornography”.

But it wasn’t okay to touch people inappropriately then, and it still isn’t now.

The worldwide #MeToo movement, which the prosecution referred to in the trial, is just one example showing the significant cultural shift in societal views of sexual harassment.

On appeal, the Supreme Court accepted the movement had led to an

increase in the number of complaints by women and to increase awareness of the unacceptability of such acts and conduct.

However, it held that no evidence was put forward to the magistrate

upon which a finding could be made that the effect of the movement itself had resulted in a change in community standards as to the ‘acts’ and ‘conduct’ that should, at law, be deemed ‘indecent’.

Cultural change takes time. The #MeToo movement is a positive step in changing how we respond to sexual assault. Implying pornography and dancing excuses sexual harassment is a step backwards.

University of Technology Sydney criminal law lecturer Dr Katherine Fallah criticised the Ramsden decision. In an interview on Triple J, Fallah made an excellent point, arguing:

The statement about twerking and about porn are offered in a fairly derisory way of talking about things that are very remote from the facts of the case – here we have a woman having a photo taken after … a wheelchair basketball charity event.

The bottom line

A person’s backside is an intimate part of one’s body and no one should have to tolerate unwanted contact of their private parts for someone else’s amusement.

The Ramsden case fails to reinforce this message because of the definition of “indecency”, which requires a sexual motive for the act.




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Australian legislators need to step in and make it clear that deliberately pinching a person’s backside is a form of sexual harassment. Without consent, such conduct is unacceptable, regardless of whether it is done for a sexual purpose or in a poor attempt at humour.

The bottom line is that “bum pinching isn’t — and has never been OK”.The Conversation

Hadeel Al-Alosi, Lecturer, School of Law, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Catholic Church is investigating George Pell’s case. What does that mean?


Ian Waters, University of Divinity

Cardinal George Pell was this week sentenced by a Victorian court to six years’ jail for sexually abusing two choirboys, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

Although Pell was found guilty of the charges against him in December, he has remained a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. The Church previously said it would await the outcome of an appeal before taking action, but it has since confirmed that an investigation of Pell’s case will be conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An American former cardinal was recently expelled from the priesthood by the Church following a canonical trial into claims of child sexual abuse. Here’s what it could look like if Pell was subject to a similar process.




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Canonical trials are governed by the rules of the Church

Most cases concerning the wrongdoing of Catholics are tried in secular courts. The decisions and punishments handed down by the courts are normally accepted by the Church as sufficient.

But the Church will conduct its own examination of cases where the church’s canon law requires punishment outside the competence of the courts of the land. That includes the excommunication of a member of the church, or the dismissal of a priest or bishop from the clerical state – often referred to as defrocking.

Tribunals to adjudicate matters that concern the Church’s own internal governance are principally governed by the rules and regulations of the Church, which are known as canon law (from the Greek etymology κανών or kanon, meaning a “rule”). These regulations are set out in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which came into effect in 1983.

Since such trials are conducted because of the requirements of canon law, they are known as “canonical trials”.




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Sexual abuse cases are handled by the Holy See

Catholic Church tribunals are normally held in the diocese of the parties to the case. The bishop of the diocese can judge cases for his diocese. But since bishops often have little or no in-depth knowledge of canon law, most cases in Catholic Church tribunals are handled by judges (clerics or laypersons) appointed by the bishop. The presiding judge is a priest known as the judicial vicar.

Some matters cannot be introduced at a diocesan tribunal, but are reserved for the various tribunals at the Holy See. This includes cases involving dioceses and bishops, and certain serious matters regarded as crimes in the Catholic Church. Examples of this would be matters of sacrilege (offences against the sacraments), and sexual offences by a cleric against a minor under the age of 18.

A college of judges try difficult cases

Usually a single judge presides over contentious and penal cases. But a college of three or five judges will normally try more complicated or difficult cases – especially if the prescribed penalty is an excommunication from the Church, the dismissal of a cleric, or if the case concerns the annulment of a marriage or an ordination.

Other officers of the tribunal include the promoter of justice, who is the prosecutor in penal cases. The tribunal also has notaries who swear in witnesses, and commit their testimony to writing.

Like any legal system, parties in a case have the right to appoint an advocate who can argue for them at the tribunal. If a person cannot afford an advocate, the tribunal can assign one to them free of charge.




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Defendants are presumed innocent

Catholic Church tribunals do not use the adversarial system used by the courts of the common law tradition. Rather, Catholic Church tribunals use the inquisitorial system law found in most European legal systems. That means the judges lead the investigation.

The standard of proof used by the Catholic Church tribunals is “moral certainty”. Certainty results from examination in good conscience of the available evidence. This isn’t the same as “absolute certainty”, but it’s more than mere probability. It is normally stricter than guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is usually held to be the absence of doubt based on reason and common sense.

As a general rule, the defendant has the presumption of innocence, which means the defendant will win by default unless a majority of the judges is convinced with moral certainty of the petitioner’s case.The Conversation

Ian Waters, Professor, Lecturer, Department of Moral Theology and Canon Law, University of Divinity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.