Newsletter, Edition 2. September 2012
Welcome to the second edition of the AIIA Qld newsletter. The AIIA Queensland Branch has had a very active month, with seminars presented on a range of topics such as Australia’s International Volunteers, the ‘other’ India, a sneak preview into North Korea and the US-Australian alliance. More recently, we have also seen an exciting seminar organised by the AIIA interns held at Griffith University on the role of religion in the 21 st century. A big congratulations to AIIA intern Ketevan Datukishvili for organising the event, which was deemed a success. In this edition, we have provided a platform for AIIA interns to showcase their work. Intern Alister Oulton takes us through the back-streets of Colombia, where he spent some time, to demonstrate the reality of Latin American economic growth. Intern Yooree Lee considers the rules of the foreign policy game in the context of the China-US relationship. We also hear from former intern, Simon Katterl, who is currently spending some time in East Timor as part of The Schoolbag project. Intern Cassandra Switaj also explores the role of UN Youth Australia. A big thank-you to Cassandra Switaj for helping design and edit this newsletter. We hope this edition continues to promote an engagement with topical issues as much as it inspires and challenges mainstream perceptions. If you have any feedback or wish to contribute, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Milly Arsic | AIIA Intern supervisor
Interactive Seminar on Religion in the 21st Century
11th of September was fairly eventful for AIIA. While the usual Tuesday event was hosting Niels Marquardt, U.S. Consul General, in the afternoon AIIA was hosting an event at Griffith University. In a quiet main theatre, guests gathered to have a discussion about the importance of religion in today’s society. The topic is rather controversial and perhaps some sharp remarks could have taken place. However, instead of engaging in an antagonising debate, our guest speakers presented very interesting and rather pluralistic views about religion and its impact on a changed and globalised world. Associate Professor Mohammad Abdalla took us on an insightful journey into the history of religions and showed us that being different can be, and is, tolerated. This was demonstrated through Christians and Muslims and other religious representatives that live on the same territory and can be peaceful neighbours. Associate Professor Gideon Baker shared with us the fruit of his research and argued that if we track down the genealogy of the political concepts that we are using today the roots will lead us to such authors and religious figures as Peter the First, who in his opinion, introduced humanity to the concept of equality, despite which socio-economic level we occupy, which echoes today’s concept of citizenship.
Photos: Chris Volk PhD candidate Nadeem Khokhar examined how young people choose their beliefs and integrate them in their lives. He interviewed numerous young people and agreed with Mohammad Abdalla that the younger generation believe that people with different religious beliefs can be ‘friends’; however it is vital to provide people with correct information and educate them about other cultures and religions. We talked about the negativity of the concept of religion and also about racism and revolutionary movements, so the hour and a half was really productive and truly engaging. We hope to see Dr Baker, Dr Abdalla and Mr Nadeem with us again and this is certainly not the last exciting seminar that will be held in the walls of the Alma-Mater Griffith.
Ketevan Datukishvili | AIIA Intern
Emergence of the Latin Leaders - who is being counted in Colombia’s new growth?
Words and photos: Alister Oulton | AIIA Intern
As one of the most promising economies in the world and the poster boy of Latin America, Colombia has in recent times, seen economic development of a type not familiar to the Bolivarian Americas. A trend towards entrepreneurial government and business is reflected in rising health, education and a public transport system that is the jewel of the region. However, like many developing countries, the figures heralded across global finance magazines indeed reflect the symptoms of a nation on the move, but dilute the significance of the divide between small business owners and coffee farmers when compared with the elite of the financial and political districts of Bogotá, Medellin and Cali. Certainly, Colombia has come a long way from its infamous history of corruption, drugs and street crime. Under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, kidnappings, shootings and cocaine production decreased rapidly and the mood of the locals is again one of pride as they show the world the vibrant culture that defines Colombia. However, as has been said of India, China and Brazil, the success of a few powerful entities and people can provide a somewhat unrealistic assessment of a country’s real socioeconomic progress and wealth.
In Colombia, 37% of its population live below the poverty line, northern Bogotanos have an inherent distrust and fear of their south side compañeros and military service is compulsory for all school leavers who do not have an ‘exemption’ (statistics suggest that high income families also have higher incidents of health related and other exemptions). How then, to approach the figures presented about Colombia’s development? Flash new shopping centers and beautiful young people certainly give off a vibe of affluence and are substantial enough to influence the growth of the nation. Is Colombia’s free market economics really influencing its new found growth?
In Bogotá, the colonial centre of La Candaleria is awash with backpackers, wide eyed at the notion of being in the former kidnapping capital of the world (first place now held by Baghdad). In Rio de Janeiro, tour companies tout the ironic favela tours, where people pay money to a tour guide so that they may see the lives of people who are without it.
In Australia at least, the increase of Latin American food and culture is testament to the openness with which we are now beginning to treat the ‘other’ America. This is no doubt due to the apparition of Chilean, Colombian and Brazilian students populating the ranks of Australian universities, products of the region’s advancement in education. Furthermore, the recent concentration of Australian tourists in South America is seeing travel hungry Aussies find their feet being taken beyond Maccu Piccu and the Inca Trail and towards the ‘gringo trail’ of our US counterparts.
A working class man in the town of Salento in Colombia's coffee region. The increase in tourism in places such as these are reflective in the figures documenting Colombia's growth.
This two-speed development, like in so many other examples, calls for a more humanistic index to measuring growth. Colombia’s recent FTA with the US is the beginning of a raft of agreements that will further improve the exposure and education of its elite citizens. However, for the majority of Colombians, English speaking company directors and American educated vice-chancellors will not bridge the domestic divide in cities like Bogotá. It will require more than a handful of adventurous globetrotters to free up the widespread fear Colombia has of its own citizens and extend the benefits of university education and health to those beyond big business, and into the favelas where much of the population still live. Our old faithful GDP measurement cannot locate such issues and thus Colombia’s ‘growth’ may be misconceived. Reference List
Armed soldiers patrolling the historic centre of Bogotá, La Candaleria. Despite the decrease in crime and guerilla attacks in Bogotá, close proximity of the Parliament and Mayoral Office ensures that this kind of security remains paramount.
Central Intelligence Agency. 2012. “World Factbook: Colombia. August 2012.” Accessed August 27. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-worldfactbook/geos/co.html Freire-Medeiros, B. 2011. “I Went to the City of God: Gringos, guns and the touristic favela.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 20 (1): 21-34. Poveda, Alexander C. 2011. “Economic Development, Inequality and Poverty: An Analysis of Urban Violence in Colombia.” Oxford Development Studies 39 (4): 453-468. Torres Lopez, Julian. 2011. “Colombia’s ‘obligitory’ military service: The arbitrary role of class disparity.” Colombia Reports, July 24. Un-Habitat. 2010. State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide. London VA: EarthScan. Wilson, Scott. 2002. “Colombian War’s Uneven Burden.” The Washington Post, May 25. Berger, Juliana, Paula Herrera and Kathryn Roberts. 2012. "From Terrorism to Tourism: Waving the Flag of Development in Colombia." Knowledge@Wharton, January 3.
The Schoolbag in Timor Leste
Words and photos: Simon Katterl | Former AIIA Intern The Schoolbag – Asia Pacific is taking its first baby steps towards supporting education in Timor-Leste. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this journey – staying from July until December to support our very first distributions. There are no shortage of lessons, experiences and stories I can provide about my journey so far. It became patently clear within the first days of arrival that The Schoolbag’s premise – to provide students with a bag with all the basic education materials for a year – was in great need. Right now Timor-Leste is undergoing a fantastic transformative process towards a young and dynamic democratic society. However, given the turbulent past it has recently emerged from, education is but one of the sectors which struggle to meet increasing demands. The last six weeks have been an awe-inspiring and transformative process for myself, the team and The Schoolbag. I was lucky enough to begin my journey with three members of The Schoolbag team: Christopher Eigeland, Alex Tanglao and Judith Bueving. Right from the get-go we began the process of learning all-things-Timor. Between the three of them, The Schoolbag was wellequipped to deal with the tidal wave of information that was soon to reach our conceptual shores. Christopher Eigeland, the Co-Founder of The Schoolbag, works as a jack of all trades – directing, media relations and visual design to name a few - and a master of, well pretty much all of them. Alex Tanglao serves as an enormous driving force in our organisation; directing education, logistics and administrative process on a daily (or quarter-hourly)
basis. Judith Bueving is our front-and-center, straight-shooting education guru, bringing her skills in Development and Community-Empowerment. Without this team, there’s no way our initial distributions would have been the success they were.
During the July trip our team connected to 15 schools, committing to supporting the education of 4000 students. With almost all the schools we visited that were suffering from a lack of basic equipment, there was no doubt that we had plenty of work to do in collaboration with the Timorese people. For example, Tome Del Cas, principal of EBF Caibada Uaima’a, told us how his school suffered from a chronic shortage of books, pencils and curriculum material, while students were faced with a 6km journey to school every day, by foot. Limited funds and teachers mean that students are only treated to three hours of school every day; not enough to meet feed their young minds.
Despite this, students and teachers alike – and more broadly Timor-Leste – embodies a kind of optimism that I hope to capture and return to Australia with (hopefully customs lets it in!). This contagious positivity is presented above Mr. Del Cas’ desk, stating “Hamutuk ita hari’I future nebe diak – Together we can build a better future”. Working for The Schoolbag with the Timorese people is a lesson in humility that I feel so blessed to be a part of. Supporting education in our close geographical neighbours empowers you with the recognition that your skills can have a real impact on the lives of people that are less fortunate than you. Did I mention it’s fun – this year you have the opportunity to be part of our Guinness World Record attempt for the Largest Chalk Pavement Ever (check our Schoolbag – Asia Pacific page for details). It has never been such an exciting time to be involved with The Schoolbag; at home and abroad. Keep poised for news and opportunities in the coming months!
The Chinese Engagement Yooree Lee | AIIA Intern “So we constructively engage with China. That’s our policy; it’s the policy of the United States. We also have frank discussions with China where we have differences.” These words of Prime Minister Julia Gillard encapsulate the diplomatic challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region on the eve of what some are terming the ‘Chinese Century.’ The strength of China’s economic power has forced political stakeholders to strategically consider how to capitalise on its rampant growth, instigating a paradigm shift in foreign policy that incorporates the predicted rise of another superpower. The adherence to fundamental human rights standards in China is a sensitive topic for the state, but has been the subject of much conjecture by the international community. These discussions of human
rights, however, have been thwarted by the Chinese government’s lack of transparency and accountability, and the community’s propensity to overlook its far from stellar record. Jerome Cohen, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains that “China loves to have human rights dialogues”. “It’s a way of letting the democratic countries show their constituents that they are sincerely trying to move China down the path of human rights, but not much really comes out of these sessions.” China argues that human rights are relative, rejecting the ethnocentric Western conception of rights in a liberal democracy. A difference in core philosophical beliefs has been the cause of diplomatic tension between China and the West for many years. Engrained Confucianism distinguishes a Chinese conception of liberalism from the AngloAmerican, individual-centric model. In a unique Chinese interpretation of utilitarianism, China’s international relations are underpinned by a version of market-Leninism where individual flourishing is sacrificed for that of the collective. When convenient, symbolic, tokenistic gestures have allowed China to ‘save face’ and retain its status in the international community. For example, the Chinese government signed the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998. A decade later, the 2008 annual US State Department human rights report indicated that China had dropped out of the top 10 index of human rights abusers. In addition, in 2009 China unveiled its inaugural National Human Rights Action Plan, recommitting to existing human rights standards enshrined in domestic and international law. These are instances of China playing lip-service to human rights.
The Chinese government simply contends that the West does not understand the principles that govern its foreign policy. Regardless, the image of Liu Xiabo’s empty chair at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony where he was honoured as its recipient for “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” is etched in the minds of many. Any hope that the Nobel Committee had for China to engage in critical self-reflection was overly optimistic. The coverage of the event by foreign news organisations including CNN and the BBC was blocked in China and mention of the award was prevented from reaching 420 million Chinese Internet users. China’s ambassador was not present and 16 of the 65 countries with embassies in Norway, where the ceremony was held, chose not to attend.
China has been unscrupulous in its pursuit of selfinterested economic interests. For example, the Chinese government continues to maintain a large economic and political stake in North Korea and the 2008 Darfur genocide was facilitated mostly by Chinese military equipment. This directly contravened the UN embargo on Darfur that required states to ensure they did not provide military assistance to either side of the conflict. Further, China is the only country that will conduct business with Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Human Rights Watch described Mr Bashir’s recent trip to visit his “friend and brother”, China’s President Hu Jintao, as “an affront to victims of heinous crimes committed in Darfur”. China’s enormous investment in Africa is problematic from a human rights perspective, but is invaluable to its foreign trade relations and domestic economic growth. Negotiations and transactions between China and African states are simple and efficient: no consultants, no environmental impact, no delay and no concern for human rights. According to Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal Africa Society and former Africa editor for The Economist magazine, this is what makes Chinese economic activity in Africa so attractive and profitable. For instance, in 2007 the Chinese looked the other way as a state-sponsored project to build a dam on the River Nile in Sudan (in exchange for oil concessions) led to the Sudanese government’s forcible removal of thousands of people from their homes.However, it is too simplistic to criticise China. With highly lucrative economic prospects at stake, smart diplomacy has been employed to tiptoe around the matter
of human rights violations. The disadvantage of this is that as long as the international community places more importance on expanding exports and encouraging international investment, there is little opportunity to forge common ground for discussions of human rights. Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains “condemning a human rights abuser gets a whole lot trickier when the country in is suddenly critical to rebuilding the global economy”. Black holes in foreign diplomacy and cosmetic improvements to China’s human rights record are a dangerous combination. China suspects that the advocacy of human rights within its borders is part of an attempt by the US to control China and prevent it from emerging as a rival superpower. Such suspicions are not unwarranted. For example, the US observes gross human rights violations in Columbia, Nigeria, Uganda, India and Saudi Arabia, but is quick to criticise China. A defeatist attitude towards China’s engagement in discussions of human rights – such as that embodied by US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s candid comment “we pretty much know what they’re going to say” – certainly does not resolve the problem. Instead, the US and China must draw a chair at the same roundtable. China is still a developing country and has to manage domestic concerns such as poverty alleviation. Progress will be a protracted process. Individual human rights and freedoms sit uncomfortably with China’s staunch commitment to collective state success, threatening its Confucian philosophy. Nevertheless, human rights can and should be demanded. It is the responsibility of those states most affected by China’s increasing influence to change the rules of the foreign policy game. If economic interests are the chief concern, then we must cleverly construct a cost-benefit analysis to encourage China to consider the high price of its disregard for human rights.
Keep Your Eye On: UN Youth Queensland Interview
Cassandra Switaj | AIIA Intern There are many organisations in Queensland that offer young people fantastic opportunities to develop and refine skills that assist their understanding of international affairs. This newsletter highlights one particular organisation that is truly passionate about the United Nations and educating young Queenslanders of its basic values. This interview features Laura Forman, President of UN Youth Queensland and her extensive experiences as a long-serving member.
What are the organisation's main goals? UN Youth Qld is the Queensland divisional branch of UN Youth Australia, a non-profit, non-partisan, youth-led NGO that strives to educate young people about international affairs, and empower them to engage meaningfully with the world around them. What are the key events that the organisation runs? Which is your personal favourite? UN Youth Qld reaches approximately 2000 high school students each year through a variety of events aimed at peer-to-peer education. UN Youth Queenslandâ€™s Flagship event for the year is our Queensland State Summit which is a conference bringing together over 100 high school students and 30 tertiary student volunteers for a weekend of debate, guest speakers, workshops and discussion. This is my personal favorite; I attended as a high school student in 2008. It was this event that started my journey in UN Youth Queensland, a journey
that has seen me travel to nearly every state and territory and just recently to East Timor. UN Youth Qld also runs conferences in Mackay, Townsville, Chinchilla and a Model United Nations style debating competition, The Evatt Trophy. This year Qld will be hosting the national final of this competition, which sees the best 60 students selected from a pool of over 1500 nationwide, battle it out for first place. We engage with students in schools through school visits tailored to the schoolâ€™s curriculum. In addition to this, UN Youth Qld runs a year long Student Ambassadors Program and a junior public speaking completion. All of the events run by UN Youth Qld are undertaken entirely by dedicated volunteers all under the age of 25. Are there any international opportunities that UN Youth provides for young people? Yes absolutely! We have four annual international events. We send a delegation of 17 high school student to The Hague International Model United Nations Conference. These students spend a month on a tour of Europe, visiting historical sights, participating in Model UN Debate and meeting dignitaries. Closer to home we take a group of high school students to NZ on a tour learning about indigenous cultures and participating in the New Zealand National Model United Nations Conference.
We also run a program with the social education NGO Destination Dreaming called Pacific Project. Pacific Project is a year-long community development project which culminates in a two week tour of East Timor. The project fosters the building of intercultural relationships and understanding as well as providing students with an insight into the challenges and successes of development in a postconflict country. These three programs are run by UN Youth Australia volunteers for high school students. UN Youth Australia also provides international opportunities to tertiary students through a program called StatesMUN, which is a month-long tour of the USA and participation in the tertiary Harvard National Model United Nations.
What have been the key highlights for you while working with UN Youth? A few of my key highlights have been facilitating at our annual Youth Forum in Mackay in 2010, engaging with some of the brightest young people I have ever met, travelling to East Timor with ten high school student this year, the Timorese friends that I have made and having the opportunity to hear their stories. However, overwhelmingly the thing that keeps me committed to the work of this Youth NGO is watching the transformation and growth of the students that we work with and the opportunities that we create. I am immensely proud of all the volunteers within this organisation who give up hours of their time and a lot of their own money to continue, expand and better the work of UN Youth. If you wish to learn more about UN Youth, what we do and how you can become involved as either a delegate, volunteer or sponsor, please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.