Tag Archives: Human Rights

Modern day thought police


“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” – George Orwell.

You sit at your dusty desk at the Ministry of Truth, where your job is to alter historical records in favour of the Party. The Ministry is currently implementing a new language called Newspeak where certain words are deleted from the dictionary.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Thoughtcrime is the worst crime of all. Wherever you go, Big Brother is watching through telescreens. Wherever you go, there is the irrepressible murmur of political propaganda in the airwaves. The outside world is your enemy. Food is scarce. The torture of dissidents is rife.

Everything is great. Because that is what they tell you and this is all you know.

“The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.”

It sounds like a fictional story because it is. This is the world of George Orwell’s 1984. But it is also harrowingly similar to the world of today’s North Korea.

“I had to be careful of my thoughts because I believed Kim Jong-il could read my mind. Every couple of days someone would disappear. A classmate’s mother was punished in a public execution that I was made to attend. I had no choice – there were spies in the neighbourhood,”writes Yeonmi Park, a young woman who escaped North Korea.

In Nazi Germany, it was the Gestapo. In Orwell’s 1984, it was the thinkpol. And now, the mental and physical repression of the masses in North Korea is nothing short of a modern day thought-policing system. Both the past and the fiction exist in today’s reality.

For the first 15 years of her life, Yeonmi Park grew up in North Korea literally believing Kim Jong-il was an omniscient god. “I never doubted it because I didn’t know anything else. I could not even imagine life outside of the regime.” Earlier this month, she appeared on SBS Insight to share the harrowing reality of the North Korean regime.

“It was like living in hell. There were constant power outages, so everything was dark. There was no transportation – everyone had to walk everywhere. It was very dirty and no one could eat anything.

“It was not the right conditions for human life, but you couldn’t think about it, let alone complain about it. Even though you were suffering, you had to worship the regime every day.”

When her father, a government worker, was accused of doing something wrong, he was sent to prison for three years. The regime’s policy of generational punishment meant that Park’s entire family was exiled from Pyongyang to the countryside near the Chinese border.

The UN Commission has also heard many testimonies indicating there are currently 120,000 political prisoners in North Korea. Many are systematically starved and instructed to burn dead bodies into fertiliser. Mothers are forced to kill babies that are of ‘impure’ blood.

As a teenager, Park fled the dictatorship, crossing a frozen river and a winter desert to get from North Korea to China to Mongolia and finally, to South Korea. After years of brainwashing, it was difficult for her and her mother to let go of their indoctrination.

“I realised that everything I thought was a lie. I had not been a real person – I was created for the regime to work for them. If they ordered us to die, I would’ve died for them,” she writes. It took Park three years to overcome the brainwashing.

“My mother took longer than me. When Kim Jong-il died she couldn’t believe it…she said, ‘he can’t die because he’s not a human, he’s a God!’”

While Park may have escaped, some of her family and many more North Koreans have not been so lucky. In 2014, it seems unfathomable that this could be a reality for anyone. But it is.

Published in Hijacked, 23 April 2014.


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Why journalists make great pets for corrupt governments


If the detainment of three Al Jazeera English journalists in Egypt has taught us anything, it’s that journalists make great pets for corrupt governments.

For a preview, all you have to do is Google “journalists in cages” and you’ll get plenty of totally non-sickening images of grown men literally caged like animals in a Cairo court room (note: if your search results have been replaced with pictures of your Supreme Ruler, it’s probably because you live in a heavily internet-filtered country like China or North Korea).

The cute cats and exotic birds of the world better watch out – they’ve got some stiff competition and here’s why:

Caging journalists because you believe they have portrayed you badly in the media is a great way to show the international community how un-bad you are.

Since December last year, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed have been imprisoned in Egypt, accused by the current military government of aiding terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood by publishing lies.

Egypt has been in political turmoil for the past three years whether it’s been under ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, elected then ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi in 2012-2013 or the current military government who took power in a coup.

There’s no better public relations strategy for restoring your nation’s international reputation than by jailing a few journalists. It’ll be as if the political violence, government retaliation and thousands of deaths never happened.

Like animals, journalists are unable to expressly communicate against any punishment you inflict because your court system is corrupt and refuses to hear any exonerating evidence. That, or you don’t have a court system.

In their fourth hearing in Cairo on Monday March 31, the Al Jazeera journalists denied any connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. “After three hearings, it’s apparent that there’s no case against us. No witness has anything that incriminates us,” Mohamed Fahmy told Agence France-Presse, just before proceedings began.

At the end of the fourth hearing, they were denied bail. Time will tell whether their voices are heard.

Unlike birds, journalists can’t fly so you’re less likely to find yourself in the backyard with flailing arms trying to catch your little sister’s pet budgie journalist that you accidentally let loose.

It has now been around 100 days since the three Al Jazeera English journalists were detained and as of yet, there have been no signs of wing-development.

Journalists eat human food so you don’t have to get your hands dirty with smelly cat food or dead mice.

If you’re lucky, the pet journalist might even go on a hunger strike meaning you can save yourself the effort of cooking. Such is the case with another detained Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shami, who has been on a hunger strike for almost 80 of his 240 days in Egyptian prison.

Keeping journalists on a leash rather than letting them run wild means preventing them from airing your dirty laundry

With the latest UN Commission’s findings of North Korea’s atrocities, who would want a journalist cramping their style further by telling the world all their secrets?

If the world heard you’ve been forcing mothers to drown their babies, systematically starving 120,000 political prisoners and getting them to incinerate the dead bodies into fertiliser, the world just wouldn’t get it, ya know? Really, you’re doing everyone a favour. Nobody will feel obligated to do anything if they don’t know about it.

Animal rights abuse is a thing but luckily, human rights abuse isn’t

If anyone ever hurt my dog, I wouldn’t hesitate to go all Legally Blonde 2 on their arse.

Luckily for all the corrupt governments, people don’t care about stuff like free speech and it’s not like there’s a Universal Declaration of Human Rights or anything…

So if you’re the leader of an oppressive, corrupt dictatorship and you happen to be searching for a new pet, look no further than that cute, fluffy journalist. They might need some taming at first, but not to worry! It’s inevitable that they will bow before you O Great and Fearless Leader.

Published in Hijacked, 7 April, 2014.

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Buying Time From The Poor

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It can be difficult enough deciding whether or not to boycott clothes that have been outsourced from factories with abysmal working conditions. Boycotting may put workers out of a job but continuing to buy may encourage unethical sourcing methods. Replace ‘clothes’ with ‘human organs’ and the internal dilemma gets even more complicated.

Like a diamond ring or the clothes on your back, it is hard to imagine that a donated organ may come from a slum in India or a shack in Brazil. Only this time, an organ can give you what you didn’t think anyone could: time.

World Health Organisation statistics from 2011 recorded 112, 631 solid organ transplantations worldwide, which only satisfied about 10 per cent of global needs. With global demand significantly higher than global supply, patients may seek alternative routes and countries to desperately find an organ.

If you could get a life-saving organ from the slums of India or a shanty town in Brazil, would you take it?

A nephrologist (kidney physician) from the Netherlands, taking part in a 2013 study, showed empathy to those who buy. “It’s a matter of life and death.” “It is to be expected from a rational minded person that he will look for other ways to find organs”.

Image Credit: North Dakota National Guard

It can be a difficult decision whether to buy or die. Before he died, Steve Jobs spoke of the importance of death as “the single best invention of life.” “It’s life’s change agent”, he said. “It clears out the old to make way for the new.” So, when death comes knocking, do we fold or do we fight for another day? How do we know when, if ever, is the right time to die? In the context of global organ trading, some may be better equipped to fight for more time than others.

With technological advances comes the prospect of immortality for the rich, argues Elliot Leyton, anthropologist from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Leyton argued that the commodification of body parts, sold in a new world market, “offers the wealthy and the well-connected an indefinite extension of life, limited only by the abilities of current medical technology.” “[T]he rich now live forever (at least in theory)”, he wrote.

On the flipside, imagine you are living in poverty and have no money to pay for your daughter’s hefty dowry or for your children’s education. If technological advances and global networks allowed your body to become a new source of currency, would you use it?

Several academics have argued over the ethics of the global organ trade and whether the decision to donate an organ is autonomous or subject to exploitation. That is, whether organ commodification is an empowering means of escaping abject poverty or a mechanism that exploits the desperation of the abjectly poor.

Francis Delmonico, surgeon and president of the Transplantation Society, argued, “the vulnerable in resource-poor countries are exploited for their organs as a major source of organs for the rich patient-tourists”. Rich patient-tourists create the demand and the resource-poor become a source of supply.

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai . Image Credit: Kounosu

However, others may criticise this perspective as social paternalism, arguing that an individual should be free to choose what to do with their own body. “I would sell my own kidney if I could therefore feed my children or give them good education. I cannot be judgmental about that”, one nephrologist reflected.

Poverty is the problem, not global organ transplantation, Radcliffe-Richards argues. “Removing their option to sell leaves them poor and makes their range of options smaller still.” Rather, Radcliffe-Richards believes we need to combat poverty at its root and provide safer means of organ extraction.

Alternatively, Scheper-Hughes (2000) argues that selling organs is hardly a fair option to suggest in the first place. When considering the social and economic poverty faced by donors, she argues the “choice to sell a kidney in an urban slum of Calcutta or in a Brazilian favela (is) anything but a free and autonomous one.” The seeming ‘consent’ to commodify one’s organs is forced upon donors by crippling circumstances.

Veena Das, anthropologist from Johns Hopkins University, agrees that putting a market price on body parts in not a means of escape but rather, “exploits the desperation of the poor, turning their suffering into an opportunity”.

In an increasingly globalised world with advancing medical technologies, there comes greater opportunity to save and extend lives. But there is also the risk that this new market may further entrench global inequalities.

Published in Vibewire, 30 October 2013.

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Shock Greets Rudd’s New Refugee Policy

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Rudd’s new asylum seeker policy has sparked fresh anger among refugee advocates on an issue that continues to divide the nation. 
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Faces behind the fashion tags

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With over 1,100 lives lost, the Bangladesh factory tragedy has placed a magnifying glass over the issue of labour exploitation. From beneath the rubble, stories of survival and loss emerge – the faces behind the fashion tags.
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