Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Civil liberties in English speaking countries under assault on three continents

Last week's bombing in Bali, Indonesia probably was just background noise to most in the US. After all, US deaths in Iraq are approaching 2000; what are a few, non-US (and mostly non-white), dead people in a faraway Asian country? But Bali is a vacation backyard for Australians and the explosions were an echo of the attack three years ago on a Bali bar that killed 202 people, mostly Australians. That attack is sometimes referred to as Australia's 9/11.

Last summer I had the privilege of traveling for several weeks with fine bunch of Aussies. They were wonderful folks to go on trek with, full of bawdy humor, grit, and adventurousness. And to a person, they were horrified to hear of how the US government has indulged since 9/11 in no fly lists, racial profiling of Muslims and other immigrants, apparently arbitrary detentions, and abusive overseas prisons.

Now it seems Australia is getting a dose of similar assaults on civil liberties. The Prime Minister, John Howard, from the center-right "Liberal" Party, had already won agreement from state and territorial leaders for a package "anti-terrorism" laws before the latest suicide bombings. How much more support will he find now?

According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio the new laws

will include a provision to detain suspects for up to two weeks without charge. They will also expand stop, search and question powers to areas such as transport hubs.

New control orders to restrict the movement of suspected terrorists could also include house arrest. The legislation enables the federal government to expand its powers to proscribe organizations that advocate terrorism. …

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has agreed to apply a 10-year sunset clause, or expiry date, to the new laws, and a review of the legislation after five years.

Sound familiar? The English speaking countries of the world are rapidly chipping away at their proud heritage of limitations on governments' arbitrary intrusions on the lives of the people. The Australian package very much resembles what Tony Blair has put in place in the UK. (Howard was in the UK at the time of the July 7th London subway bombings and aftermath.) Last week UK police used the new anti-terrorism laws there to detain 600 people who sought to protest at the Labour Party congress!

Civil liberties campaigners point out that these laws are particularly dangerous in Australia because there is no charter (like European Union human rights conventions in the UK) or constitutional provision (like the US Bill of Rights) that would offer courts a chance to review how they are implemented by authorities.

Liberty under law seems a fragile reed these days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

canada is pretty bad too. it really is the 51st state

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