Michelle Harris, Concerned Australians (http://www.concernedaustralians.com.au/)
In 2010, two Northern Territory elders visited the United Nations in Geneva. They returned to Australia rejoicing about their personal experiences. Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin’ku and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM from Utopia shared with others their reactions to the experience of having been truly listened to. It was an important visit because it gave them strength to go on fighting and believing that justice was achievable. At a personal level they had had an opportunity to unburden themselves in an environment of support.
Many aspects of that visit, including important meetings with other UN agencies, were brought about through the considerable support of the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) led by Rachel Brett and of her assistant, Holly White, who will soon be returning to Australia. Rachel has remained a source of advice and assistance to ‘concerned Australians’ ever since, especially as we try to find our way through the sometimes daunting task of locating the correct channels to contact various United Nations bodies.
When we heard that Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, would visit Australia, we knew how important it would be for her to spend time with other Northern Territory leaders so that they might also have the opportunity to experience the support of the international body first hand. Once again, advice from Rachel contributed as we successfully lobbied for the High Commissioner to visit Darwin.
It is rare for Aboriginal leaders to be able to come together and to have the opportunity of sharing their feelings with each other. The opportunity to come together and meet with Navi Pillay was a very special event. Leaders travelled from all parts of the Territory to share with the Commissioner their concerns about their loss of rights and their fears for the future. After the meeting, several of those who attended referred to the experience as ‘very strong’ and ‘very emotional’.
Later Navi Pillay said, ‘I could sense the deep hurt and pain that they have suffered because of government policies that are imposed on them.’ She also expressed reservations about the inflexibility of the policies themselves:
I also saw Aboriginal people making great efforts to improve their communities, but noted that their efforts are often stifled by inappropriate and inflexible policies that fail to empower the most effective, local solutions.
The Intervention is now in its fifth year. There is little doubt that Navi Pillay held grave reservations not only about the policy but also about what she had seen and heard. Her final media statement said:
I would urge a fundamental rethink of the measures being taken under the Northern Territory Emergency Response. There should be a major effort to ensure not just consultation with the communities concerned in any future measures, but also their consent and active participation. Such a course of action would be in line with the UN Declaration.
Sadly, the current consultations taking place in the Northern Territory are happening without communities having been asked to give their consent
, and sadly, community leaders were not invited to engage in the planning of an agenda that would prioritise the issues that are central to their future lives.
There is a very long way to go if Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are ever going to be able to pursue self determination. They will need an enormous amount of active support and a determination to keep fighting for their rights.
Without the guidance of Rachel Brett in Geneva, concerned Australians would not have been so successful in reaching the right people to assist in re-scheduling the commissioner’s visit to include a stop in Darwin. Without the support of some nine different organisations, including Quakers, here in Australia, we would never have been able to assist the costly transport of over 60 people from 20 different communities to reach Darwin. Airfares are expensive and distances considerable. Without the assistance of the Uniting Church we would never have been able to organize overnight accommodation.
We are grateful to all the organisations that came together at short notice and we are especially grateful to the QUNO officers who, through their guidance, continue to greatly increase our chances of gaining support in areas where human rights are being so wantonly disregarded.