If the experience of East Timorese NGOs
is any guide, Foreign Minister Downer’s notion of Human Rights
includes the little-known Right to be Grateful and the Right to Keep
your Mouth Shut, included in the International Covenant on the White
In December 2004, on the occasion of
the 56th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Downer feted Australia’s ‘proud tradition
of protecting and promoting human rights’ (SMH 15 Oct 2005).
In doing so he announced a grant of $65,830 to the East Timorese NGO
Forum Tau Matan (FTM) that would help ‘grassroots organisations
to support human rights in a direct and tangible way’ by
funding a project to monitor the East Timorese prison and legal
Six months later, a ‘number of
significant developments in the Australian development co-operation
program with Timor-Leste’ (AusAID quoted in SMH 15 Oct 2005)
led to the cancellation of the project after the disbursement of only
It turns out, according to a spokeswoman from AusAID quoted
in the Herald report, that the developments in question were related
to FTM’s signature on press releases dated 29th
September and 27th
October 2004, that is before
the grant was announced. These press releases called for a
just resolution to the Timor Sea boundary dispute between Australia
and East Timor, and for the depoliticisation of Australia’s
relationship with East Timor.
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In the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence
and Trade Legislation Committee on 3rd
November 2005, a representative of AusAID, after some pressing
from Senator Hogg (Labor, Queensland), admitted that the decision to
cancel the project had been taken at the ‘ministerial level’.
It also transpires
that not only was the project cancelled, but that FTM and other 12
signatories to the press releases (including one founded by Nobel
Prize winner Bishop Belo and another recipient of the Goldman
International Environmental Prize), are now blacklisted from AusAID
Clearly the human rights that Downer
sees fit to promote do not include the right to lobby respectfully
for legitimate and just outcomes.