International Volunteers for Peace, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Independent and Peaceful Australia Network are to be congratulated and thanked for organising the Raising Peace Conference held at the end of September. My speech on Australia’s support for authoritarian governments is below. Here is a link to some of the other conference proceedings.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land from where I join this event – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay tribute to all First Nations people and acknowledge their history, their culture and their ongoing struggles for justice of which tragically there are many. 

First off I would like to pay tribute to our forebears, who built the global peace movement during the Cold War years. The attacks they endured are hard to credit today. A couple of examples – a Brooklyn judge in the US sentenced five people to gaol for writing “PEACE” on a park wall. In Philadelphia 40 people were arrested for peace activities. When they appeared in court they were advised to “go back to Russia”. And one more example. This incident shows where Cold War paranoia can lead – a Hollywood studio stopped production of a movie based on Hiawatha. Hiawatha was a native Indian tribal leader who became famous for his efforts to negotiate a peace settlement to protect his people. The New York Times wrote that the picture might be “regarded as a message for peace and therefore helpful to present Communist designs”. 

Similar crazy accusations occurred in other countries. There was the allegation that names and addresses collected on ban the bomb and other peace petitions were given to the Soviets so they would know where to drop their bombs. While that sounds laughable today then the fear was intense. It was tough speaking up for world peace. But the activists of those times persisted and built a mighty peace movement. 

We are in a new Cold War and I think we can draw inspiration from the many generations of peace workers who have come before us.

My talk is on Australia’s support for Authoritarian Governments in the Asia Pacific Region with a focus on India and the Philippines. If you want links to any of the issues I cover in this talk please contact me at lee.rhiannon@gmail.com 

India and the Philippines are run by men, who personally are closely linked to violent criminal acts. The mainstream media barely reports on the crimes of the Modi and Duterte governments, let alone those committed by the leaders themselves. 

The propaganda that we heard from Morrison and other government leaders when AUKUS was launched clearly targets China as the source of authoritarian danger in our region.

This new alliance diverts attention away from the actions of other authoritarian regimes in our region. The double standards of Australia on the world stage are shocking. Morrison regularly attacks China over its aggressive military actions, treatment of its citizens and lack of democracy. Meanwhile the federal government is expanding its relations with India without a word of criticism of the increasing human rights abuses in that country. 

The BJP – Bharatiya Janata Party – headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is committed to Hindutva, a political ideology that promotes Hindu nationalism. The result is mounting attacks on India’s minorities, particularly Muslims. A series of new laws facilitate and legitimise the abuse and discrimination. 

Jammu Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India. The people of this region have faced seven decades of extreme human rights abuses, and acts of genocide. Under Modi life has become even harder. In 2019 the central Indian government imposed direct rule from Delhi, cut off the internet and phone services and imposed an extreme lockdown. This was before Covid. There was no justification for this settler colonial takeover. The Indian troop presence in Indian Occupied Kashmir was increased to more than 800,000. Human right abuses skyrocketed. 

India’s attitude to its people is not that different from China’s. However, the actions of the Morrison government show a dangerous favouritism. Also this region is home to three nuclear powers – India, Pakistan and China – and the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed along the line of control do regularly clash. The military threat to the region is real but when questioned about this issue Prime Minister Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne dismiss the Kashmir crisis as a bilateral matter to be settled between India and Pakistan. 

Meanwhile in the rest of India the attacks on its 200 million Muslim population are escalating. The BBC reports that a 2019 fact checker website that counted “hate crimes” in India reported that more than 90 per cent of victims in the past ten years were Muslims.

A 2019  report by Indian NGO, Common Cause, found that half of police surveyed showed anti-muslim bias, making them less likely to intervene  to stop crimes against Muslims. That played out with ugly results when a pogrom was unleashed against Muslims in North East Delhi last year. The Delhi Police, who report directly to the Federal Home Minister Amit Shah, either stood by or assisted the mobs move into the slums where they staged their attacks. Videos of police breaking CCTV cameras and taunting Muslims while filming with their smartphones appeared on social media. 

These attacks reminded many of similar attacks in 2002, when Modi was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. The future prime minister and his administrators did nothing to stop the attacks that killed over 1,000 people, the majority of them Muslims. Because of these crimes for a number of years Mr Modi was banned from travelling to the US.

The BJP is also using an array of legal measures to discriminate against Muslims. In the northeastern Indian state of Assam a National Citizens Registry was trialled. Two million people, mostly Muslims, were stripped on their citizenship, as they could not produce sufficient documents to prove their nationality.  Now the National Citizens Registry is being implemented across the whole country and the Indian Parliament has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act that fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. This effectively creates legal discrimination against Muslims.

Then there is BJP’s links to its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a paramilitary organisation modelled on the Nazis that has trained thousands at its military exercises. Last year Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, caused embarrassment for his government, when he visited RSS headquarters and was photographed in front of a picture of an early RSS leader who has written about his admiration of Hitler. This visit was all the more extraordinary as in 1999 Bajrang Dal, an off shoot of RSS that works to “liberate” Hindu holy shrines, killed Australian Pastor Graham Staines and his two children. Staines had run a home for lepers in India for over 30 years.

The increase in lynchings of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities, the take over of Kashmir and the numerous other human rights abuses are of concern not only because of the suffering so many people are enduring but also because of the instability it brings to our region.

The good news is that in India and among the Indian diaspora there is a growing movement to combat the hate speech, reduce military tensions and to advocate for civil and human rights for all. The Humanism Project and Hindus for Human Rights are two of the groups building resistance to caste, Hindu nationalism and racism in all its forms. I believe that this section of the Indian diaspora has a great deal in common with our work to build a 21st century global peace movement. 

I will now move onto the Philippines where President Rodrigo Duterte oversees a high level of State terror. One of the most recent inquiries, the Independent International Commission of Investigation Into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines, known as the Investigate PH for short, has just concluded its work.  It was pleasing to see the prominent role played by Australian activists.  Peter Murphy, also a speaker on this panel, was Chair of Investigate PH. We had three commissioners – Senator Janet Rice, and former senator Claire Moore and myself. It was a phenomenal undertaking with commissioners, witnesses and a tech team from around the globe.

The recent release of the Final Report of Investigate PH coincided with the deliberations of the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council. All the reports of Investigate PH are available on line 

President Duterte launched his “war on drugs” on 30 June 2016, the day he took office. Between 1 July 2016 and 31 December 2020 the official government figures lists 6,011 deaths in anti-drug operations. It is becoming increasingly understood that these figures are not accurate. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that the figure up to March 2020 was at least 8,663. Other studies cite the number of killings as almost three times higher than that figure. 

If the President was serious about countering illegal drug use his government would deal with it as a health issue. But the War on Drugs has not been about assisting drugs users to end their addiction. This war has turned the Philippines into a brutal police state.

Of all the thousands killed since the drug wars were instigated in 2016 police have only been convicted of one murder. This is the case of Kian Delos Santos, abducted by police in August 2017. The killer is known because the local government officers forgot to turn off the CCTV.

The Filipino judicial and legislative systems are increasingly complicit in these crimes and in repressing government critics.

Duterte has a range of repressive state machinery to assist his forces perpetrate his oppression and abuse – the Anti-Terrorism Act, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and the Joint Industrial Peace Concerns Office. All are designed to undermine any opposition and make it easier for police and security forces to orchestrate attacks on workers, peasants, church people and indigenous people. Activists in these groupings along with the urban poor, unionists, human rights defenders, and peace advocates are regularly targeted. 

The evidence Investigate PH was presented with was at times tough to listen to – but obviously nothing like the suffering so many Filipinos endure under the state terror that has become the hall mark of the Duterte regime.

At a time when Prime Minister Morrison is singing the praises, according to him, of being an ally of the US he should look closely at what has happened to the Philippines. This nation has not gained a benefit from being an ally of the US. The Philippines suffers because it is subservient to US interests in terms of economic, military and geo-political activities. The nation’s right to self-determination, development, justice and peace is being undermined because of the relationship with the US.

The US has five permanent bases in the Philippines. These are staffed by rotational deployments so the US has a military ready presence in the contested South China Sea.

At the moment the US does not have a base in India although there has been commentary that the Modi government could agree to the US putting a base along the line of control through Kashmir and agree to a naval base for the US fleet at islands off the Indian continent. 

The US and Australia governments are not speaking up to protect human rights in the Philippines.

The common response from the Morrison government is to ignore the extreme human rights violations occurring in both India and the Philippines and the fact that both nations are run by leaders closely linked with violent, criminal acts. 

The reasons for the West’s build up in abuse of China does not lie with wanting to protect Australia’s strategic interests. That might be the stated reason but the actual reason lies with conservative forces that understand scaring voters about the “other” is a way to win votes. It also lies with meeting the interests of the military industrial complex. The armament and security corporations are the big winners out of whipping up the alleged threat China poses. 

The tragedy is the bellicose talk coming from our leaders does make the world more dangerous. There are already more than 13,000 nuclear warheads threatening our global well being. AUKUS agreement adds to the rising risk of conflict. 

The shocking developments this week with the Morrison government actions bringing a new Cold War to our region highlights the need for events such as this peace conference. We urgently need to rebuild a broad based peace movement that not only works to end the threat of nuclear war but is also committed to supporting those communities fighting in their own countries for self-determination, peace and justice. Our path must be united. 

Thank you. 

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