THERE ARE A number of avenues through which the ‘place’ of Indigenous people in Australia can be approached. One fundamental arena of struggle has been over land rights. The approach to rights taken here, however, starts from an account of suffering and sets out to trace the political roots of that suffering. One of the clearest forms of suffering to mark Aboriginal lives in Australia is entrenched and widespread ill-health. Thus, across the Indigenous community, the story is one of premature death, often from diseases associated with
This book argues for greater openness in the ways we approach human rights and international rights promotion, and in so doing brings some new understanding to old debates. Starting with the realities of abuse rather than the liberal architecture of rights, it casts human rights as a language for probing the political dimensions of suffering. Seen in this context, the predominant Western models of right generate a substantial but also problematic and not always emancipatory array of practices. These models are far from answering the questions about the nature of political community that are raised by the systemic infliction of suffering. Rather than a simple message from ‘us’ to ‘them’, then, rights promotion is a long and difficult conversation about the relationship between political organisations and suffering. Three case studies are explored: the Tiananmen Square massacre, East Timor's violent modern history and the circumstances of indigenous Australians. The purpose of these discussions is not to elaborate on a new theory of rights, but to work towards rights practices that are more responsive to the spectrum of injury that we inflict and endure.
East Timor in the creation and perpetuation of a pattern of severe and embedded abuse. That failure to pay attention to concrete circumstances marked the ‘realism’ of the prevailing international attitudes on East Timor; to what extent might it also characterise the current liberal approaches?
The third case study, which looks at the ‘place’ of IndigenousAustralians within Australian political life, returns to a liberal rights focus – in this case not involving the language of international rights talk but rather concerning the ideals
claims of rights.
This dominant construction of human rights establishes a quite particular way of imagining and constituting both the individual person and the political community or relationship. In so doing, it also highlights a narrow, if significant, range of political injury. The attributes and aspirations of the highly abstracted conceptualisation of the individual subject produced by this approach become the yardstick for the universal, but it is a yardstick that for many people – Indigenous youths in Australian jails or low-caste women
This brief retelling, drawn from secondary sources and from sometimes conflicting accounts, cannot do justice either to the complex events leading up to Indonesia’s incorporation of East Timor or to the varying interpretations of those events. 1 Moreover, the changed conditions in East Timor and Indonesia may, over time, allow a more complex history to emerge. This section will briefly discuss Timor’s colonial period and aspects of the positions of the Portuguese, the United States, and the Australian and Indonesian Governments leading up to the annexation
taken as already settled, and sometimes quite reasonably so. Frequently, however, as the later discussion of the health of IndigenousAustralians indicates, such analyses assume or demand a crucial zone of uniformity, whether within the state or more broadly – a realm of public discourse that is declared to be neutral and open to all citizens and others, but one that is repeatedly exclusionary. Moreover, it is easy to overlook or forget these practices of exclusion, simply because within states they have proved relatively effective, so that, for example
encounters where anything of significance is at stake or change is possible. Socratic dialogue is not a form of communication for some cultures (such as IndigenousAustralian cultures). And what of feeling? Since what is being discussed is ideal exchange, those exchanges for which the need for dialogue may be most intense hardly have a place – for example, a meeting between disputing factions, or over questions embedded in hatred, grief, trauma, fear, or fragile or rigid identity, or with people who place other values above a training in argument.
evolution of human history and that the onward movement of modernisation is ultimately an innocent, transparent and emancipatory process. But as this chapter and the discussion of IndigenousAustralians’ health suggest, not simply the application but actually the constructions of human rights themselves in developed states can be ambivalent, myopic and exploitative. In the international arena, the persistence, for example, of widespread starvation as a feature of our political and economic lives – a phenomenon that is sometimes ruled out of consideration under the