WikiLeaks exposes Syria files

WIKILEAKS last night began publishing a vast database of 2.4 million emails it says involve the Syrian government and associated companies, spokeswoman Sarah Harrison told a London press conference. Ms Harrison said the Syria files ”shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy, but they also reveal how the West and Western companies say one thing and do another”.She said the emails had been set up in a multilingual data-mining system with languages including English, Arabic and Russian that can be analysed in many different ways.

The emails derived from 680 Syria-related entities or domain names, ”including those of the ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information, Transport and Culture ?

”The range of information extends from the intimate correspondence of the most senior Baath party figures to records of financial transfers sent from Syrian ministries to other nations.”

This leak dwarfed ”cablegate”, the release by WikiLeaks of previously confidential cable exchanges between American embassies and Washington. ”The data is more than eight times the size of ”cablegate” in terms of number of documents and more than 100 times the size in terms of data,” Ms Harrison said.

The first story would be about emails demonstrating that a Western defence company had been selling as late as this year technology to Syria, which has been enduring a bloody government crackdown on rebellion.

She said that SELEX, which belonged to the multinational defence leader Finmeccanica, had sold Syria a technology called TETRA, which allows police forces to communicate in a secure and reliable way. ”The selling, assistance and training by Selex continued through to this year,” she alleged.

A website for SELEX Communications said it sells an emergency services communication system called TETRA, an acronym for Terrestrial Trunked Radio.

Ms Harrison said she could not comment further on individual stories or headlines until they were published via seven media partners over the next two months. Publishers would include Associated Press in the US, OWNI in France and in Spain.

Ms Harrison also declined to comment on the situation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has applied for asylum.

She read a comment from him that said: ”The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.”

Assange has been inside the embassy since June 19 seeking political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex allegations.

He denies the claims and says the sex was consensual and the claims against him politically motivated. He fears that extradition to Sweden could be followed by extradition to the United States where he could be charged over ”cablegate”.

First published at on 6 July 2012<

Lawyer back with family, awaits ICC questions


AUSTRALIAN lawyer Melinda Taylor has been reunited with her husband and put her two-year-old daughter, Yasmina, to bed for the first time since she was released from 3½ weeks of captivity in Libya on spying allegations.
“We need to just sleep in and try and get back to normal,” Ms Taylor’s husband, Geoffrey Roberts, told the Herald in a text message yesterday.
However, Ms Taylor’s ordeal may not be over. The International Criminal Court has said it will investigate Libyan claims about Ms Taylor’s conduct.
Ms Taylor’s mother, Janelle Taylor, told the ABC’s 7.30 last night her daughter was coping very well but was surprised at the level of media attention.
“She said, ‘Why would they be interested in me?’ ” Mrs Taylor said.
She said her daughter spoke about how happy she was to be home, but did not discuss any of the details of her captivity.
John Taylor added that he thought his daughter was “unwinding”.
“It was an unpleasant experience, I’m sure. She’ll keep that within herself for a while, I’d say,” Mr Taylor said.
Mrs Taylor said she believed her daughter would be undergoing counselling and a medical examination.
The family thanked those who had provided support during her captivity, including the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr.
“Melinda’s only just realising what sort of work Bob Carr has done for her and she intends … to thank him personally,” Mrs Taylor said.
Mr Carr, who had been involved in negotiations for Ms Taylor’s release, said at times he had feared Ms Taylor might not be released quickly. There were points at which the process was taking too long and he feared the worst, he said.
Ms Taylor, a lawyer with the ICC based at The Hague, arrived on a private chartered jet at a small secondary terminal at Rotterdam airport about 9am yesterday, Australian time.
She and three colleagues who had been with her in Libya spent about 45 minutes with officials before leaving in a convoy that included the ICC president, Song Sang-Hyun.
The Libyans allege Ms Taylor had been caught carrying “spying devices” and documents that breached national security.
They allege she had carried coded documents for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Saif is the son of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi and is a prisoner in jail in the town of Zintan, which is held by a rebel militia.
The ICC wants to try him for crimes against humanity during his father’s rule. Ms Taylor was assigned to speak with him about his legal representation.
In a letter to the United Nations Security Council obtained by The Guardian, Libya claimed she tried to pass Saif a secret letter from Mohammad Ismail, Saif’s “main aide” and an associate of Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.
They allege Ms Taylor also took to the consultation with Saif a miniature “video camera pen” and a watch “that functions for the same purpose”.
Ms Taylor’s supporters have said she is highly professional and would never have behaved improperly. They speculated some of the claims might be the result of failure to understand the normal lawyer-client relationship, which involves exchanging documents and recording evidence.
Senator Carr said yesterday: “Talking to [Ms Taylor’s parents] John and Janelle, I had to tell them the evidence was ambiguous.”

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Plea of war doctor who shot dying woman

AN ADELAIDE surgeon who shot dead a young mother at the site of a massacre to save her hours of agony has called for euthanasia to be legalised in Australia.

Dr Craig Jurisevic, a cardio-thoracic surgeon and author of the memoir Blood on My Hands, volunteered as a doctor and then became a combatant with the Kosovo Liberation Army during the Balkans war in 1999.

On patrol, he came across a civilian woman who had been shot through the legs and partly disembowelled by Serb paramilitaries.

She was moaning in pain and begged him to end her suffering. He says he knew he could not save her, so he put a blanket over her face and shot her with his pistol.

Dr Jurisevic says he has never performed euthanasia in Australia but says it is common: ”You may not get people to come out and admit that it happens, but it happens all the time. Patients with terminal cancer, for example, who aren’t in severe pain but who are uncomfortable and suffering have morphine infusions, and as the dose of morphine is increased their respiration slows down until they stop breathing and they die ?

”That’s why there are people on morphine infusions who aren’t in pain. It happens frequently in terminally ill patients.”

His comments add to similar calls from doctors at a conference of the World Federation of the Right to Die Societies in Melbourne this week.

Dr Jurisevic fears euthanasia laws could be abused by people who want to prevent euthanasia, and by people who want to use it inappropriately, but on balance he believes it is better to have the practice out in the open.

”Now that people are living longer, they are developing cancers and other terminal conditions, which mean they will suffer for a lot longer, too, leading up to their death. Part of our ethos as medical professionals is to ease suffering; not just to save life, but to ease suffering.

”And if we’re to be told that we’re not allowed to ease a terminally ill cancer patient’s suffering because it’s against the law – that they should be forced to suffer in pain and without dignity for weeks or longer – then that’s terrible.”

He has no regrets about his shooting in Kosovo but admits he acted illegally. ”Euthanasia wasn’t legal in Yugoslavia, as it was then, so that was a criminal act. That’s an argument a lot of Serb journalists within Serbia have used. They called me a criminal because I killed that poor Albanian woman. I said, ‘Well, who put her there in the first place?’ ”

Surgeon at arms

THE soldiers could hear a woman crying out in a house at the other side of the village. Two of them peeled off to investigate. Unluckily for them, Serb paramilitaries had left a booby-trap.
In Kosovo, Muslims take off their shoes before they enter a house. It is a gesture of respect for the home. But during this Balkans war, Serbs used shoes at the doorstep to disguise a tripwire that triggered fragmentation grenades. The moaning woman had been spared for one reason only: as bait to lure whoever would come next to this hamlet, site of a massacre by advancing Serbs.
Craig Jurisevic is an Australian doctor who had volunteered as a medic to help the victims of the Balkans War. This day, for the first time, he had picked up guns to go on patrol with soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army. He realised this was the moment when he crossed the line to become a soldier who could practise surgery, rather than a surgeon who knew how to hold a gun. What he did not know, when he holstered his pistol that morning, was that the doctor in him would feel forced to use it on a patient.
Hearing an explosion, he raced over to the house. He checked their pulses and confirmed the deaths of the soldiers and the woman. He had already found 15 bodies of women and old people riddled with bullets. He moved cautiously towards a second house that held another woman whimpering in pain. He inspected the doorway carefully; yes, there was the wire. It was snipped and he entered.
The woman was sitting up against a wall. Near her lay the body of her husband, his head in a pool of darkening blood. In her arms she cradled a dead child, a boy of about four or five — the age of Jurisevic’s own son, back home in Adelaide. The child had been garrotted.
The woman had been shot in both legs to prevent her moving and was sitting in a massive pool of blood. She had been partly disembowelled and the coils of her innards spilled from the gash.
“The wound to her lower abdomen is meant to cause enough pain to make her cry out without killing her too quickly,” Jurisevic later wrote.
She clutched his wrist and begged him to bury her son before the next day, as is Muslim custom. Then a soldier translating for her said, “Doctor, she is asking us to kill her.”
“To kill her?”
“Yes. That is what she is saying. Doctor, I am sorry, I cannot do this.”
Jurisevic knew he must be quick because the Serbs would have heard the explosion and would return. If they found her still alive, he was sure, they would torture her even more.
In his book Blood on My hands: A surgeon at war, this is how Jurisevic describes what happened next: “I move the woman as gently as I can and place her beside her dead husband. From the bedroom I fetch a thick blanket. I think she sees clearly enough what is to follow, and she nods and manages something like a smile. I turn her head to one side, gently place the blanket down on it, point the barrel of my pistol down and pull the trigger. I wait for a few seconds, then reach for the woman’s wrist. The pulse is gone. I slide the pistol into its holster and take my leave.”
That was 11 years and half a world away. Today, Jurisevic sits at an outdoor cafe in Adelaide, his camouflage gear swapped for an immaculate navy pinstriped suit — he has been in his consulting rooms all morning — looking every inch the successful medical man. We are in the shade but all through lunch his eyes are hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, the dark, shiny lenses reflecting the outside world and shielding the responses of his inner one. Despite his ready answers to questions, the shades give the impression of a surgeon who doesn’t fancy the prospect of a journalist cutting too deeply into him.
At 45, Jurisevic is still lean and handsome, with chiselled cheekbones, blue eyes that crinkle at the corners when he laughs and teeth that must be the despair of his dentist; they seem to be quite naturally Hollywood-perfect. Here, as on the battlefield, he makes quick, decisive choices; this cafe, this table, this chair are all picked out in very short order. He immediately notices any need and swiftly moves to fill it; a glass of wine, a menu, the salt and pepper, tomato sauce for the burgers. He radiates energy, and action provides opportunities to release it. It also seems that, if there’s a need or a problem, Jurisevic believes it is up to him to solve it.
This deeply seated sense of responsibility has combined with what he calls an “adolescent hunger for stirring times in exotic climes” to make for an exciting life — but a life with episodes that he sometimes looks back on with doubt and remorse. Not putting the pistol to that poor woman’s head. The decision was so clear-cut that, in a book where he debates every other moral dilemma he was faced with at the front, this incident is only briefly described.
“It wasn’t as hard as most people think,” he says, “because, if you take away the method I used, it would just be euthanasia for someone who is dying. But because it wasn’t a drip with morphine, because it was a pistol, people say it’s terrible . . . She would have been dead in a few hours. She’d been shot in both knees and she’d lost a huge amount of blood. She’d been cut open and her bowels — ” he gestures expansively. “We had no blood, and we would have had to carry her, and we couldn’t carry her. I had just a little bit of [anaesthetic] but I was going to keep that for the people who would survive. Also because she had lost a lot of blood, there was no way you could put a drip in and then wait for her to die with [anaesthetic]. And besides, we had to get out within minutes because the Serbs were coming . . . they would have tortured her more.
“I knew, it was instinctive, that’s what I had to do. She wouldn’t have suffered . . . It would have been a lot harder if she didn’t consent or didn’t ask.”
But he concedes that even if she hadn’t begged him, he would still have considered putting her out of her misery. “Even if I was a rampant anti-euthanasia activist, I can’t see how I could not have ended her life. I couldn’t have walked away saying, ‘I feel good about myself because I believe euthanasia is wrong, so I am walking away and leaving her to suffer more and to be tortured again, but I can live with that.’ You couldn’t!”
Jurisevic feels strongly driven to be a good man, and his idea of manhood was powerfully shaped by his childhood experiences. Although they later reconciled, he was estranged from his father for some time. He changed his surname from his father’s name, McLachlan, to his mother’s maiden name, Jurisevic.
His mother was a Yugoslav refugee who taught herself English and trained as a psychiatric nurse in Australia. It was she who told him inspiring stories of the wartime heroism of his Slovenian grandfather, Franc, who “put his life on the line for a cause, and was sent to concentration camps, then came back and saw corruption in Yugoslavia and spoke out against that, and was put in prison again by the people for whom he’d fought. So he had a very strong hatred of injustice.”
JURISEVIC volunteered to work with the International Medical Corps in the Balkans after being moved by the suffering of thousands of refugees pictured on TV news reports. He had previously done a stint with the Israelis, including about 40 medivacs in Gaza; there, too, he had picked up a gun because he came under fire when rescuing the wounded. “I saw taking up a weapon and using it to protect the patients as just part of my job, an extension of treating the disease,” he says.
What of the doctor’s Hippocratic oath, which warns, “First, do no harm”?
“When they say ‘do no harm’, it’s in reference to do no harm to your patient, not do no harm to anyone,” he argues. “So if somebody’s trying to kill the patient, you have to defend the patient. You can’t just say, ‘Sorry, do no harm,’ and stand by. That’s just ridiculous.”
Jurisevic has decided views; words such as “terrible”, “ridiculous” and “absolutely” punctuate his sentences. He says he is drawn to war zones because he has an abhorrence of injustice. He was alerted to the potential of this war when the Serbs began using medical terms and the phrase “ethnic cleansing” as euphemisms for atrocity.
He writes, “Whenever national leaders start applying metaphors of ablution and disinfection to human beings, you can expect killing on a large scale to follow . . . [they rationalise] murder by talking of cancer . . . of scalpels and intervention.”
When he arrived in the Albanian town of Kukes, 200 kilometres north-east of Albania’s capital, Tirana, Jurisevic was appalled. His gorge rose at the stench of untreated gangrene even before he entered the decaying ruin of a hospital. Inside, blood spattered the theatre walls, equipment was dirty, instruments were rusty and nurses were drunk, drugged or cruel. He caught a doctor hacking with blunt scissors at exposed muscle and tendons in the hand of a small child who had been given no anaesthetic. When the boy screamed and writhed, nurses slapped him.
He spent long days operating on refugees — women, children, old people — with horrific wounds. “So many amputations!” he writes. “Reports of casualties don’t fully convey what war does to people. Imagine if I were to give a weekly surgeon’s report to the news services and display the limbs that had been lost, the metres of bowel discarded, the eyes blinded.”
At times he found it hard to hold on to the surgeon’s clinical distance. Of retrieving wounded children from a bombed kindergarten littered with body parts, he writes: “I’d like to vomit or tear my teeth out or shut my eyes and fall to my knees.”
Jurisevic could not understand why supplies were so poor despite a flood of international aid. He learned that medicines and equipment were shut away in cupboards, to be sold on the black market. Patients with no money were turned away. The hospital chief was in cahoots with the local mafia, and they were using the flood of wounded as a revenue stream.
Jurisevic exposed the corruption with the help of the American military magazine Stars and Stripes. He was then warned the mafia would kill him, so he resigned from the International Medical Corps and accepted an offer from the KLA to run one of their field hospitals. There, he was alarmed by the lack of training that left the idealistic, untried young soldiers around him utterly unprepared for what they were to face. He set up his own combat training. The doctor there to save lives taught recruits the art of killing. He was practised with guns from his teenage years when he hunted and culled goats, roos and rabbits in the hills around Adelaide.
He puzzled over how to reconcile all this with his role as a healer. He decided to amend the Hippocratic oath with a principle laid out by Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice: “To do a great right, do a little wrong.”
JURISEVIC learned that the young volunteer soldiers at the front, Mount Pastrik, had been abandoned by their commanders and their doctors, who feared for their own lives. His book paints ultra-nationalist Serb troops as alcohol and amphetamine-fuelled war criminals, but he slams the KLA too, for cowardice.
Jurisevic decided that he would go to the front himself. He set up his own aid centre in a cave on a ridge line at Mount Pastrik, sometimes evacuating the injured down the mountain under a hail of sniper fire. At night, he slept with dead bodies in the cave waiting for burial. Day and night, he endured the Serb shelling.
And it was at this point that he made the decision that would trouble his sleep long after he returned to Australia. Jurisevic led a small patrol closer to the Serb positions. He mapped their co-ordinates in detail and sent the figures off to NATO troops. The next morning, those Serb units were heavily shelled by NATO. Later that day, a ceasefire was declared.
Years later, Jurisevic discovered that that last round of NATO shelling had killed up to 600 people. “I still don’t know whether or not the co-ordinates I gave resulted in that bombing,” he says. “And whether or not that bombing in the area of Pastrik ended the shelling, or whether it was just the ceasefire that resulted in the end of the shelling. But up to 600 people died. It’s still not a good feeling, even if they were all war criminals and baby-killers.”
Then his language hardens, and suddenly he is using the same ugly euphemisms he heard on television in Adelaide: “I realised that certain paramilitaries in the area were a hard bunch. They had no respect for human rights. So basically — it sounds terrible — I saw them as a disease. They were inflicting harm and illness on innocent civilians so they had to be stopped.”
The book makes clear that Jurisevic did suffer some kind of post-traumatic distress after he returned. He says, “One thing that I’ve realised is that I still can’t actually remember arriving in Adelaide and seeing [my wife and my son]. I still can’t remember several days, which can’t be a good sign.”
He did not seek professional help but found writing the book was therapeutic. He says he has had death threats since its publication, mainly from ultra-nationalist Serbs living in Australia. It is not because he shamed them, he says: “If you expose war crimes they don’t deny the war crimes, or even express remorse. They say ‘Yes, this happened, we did this because this happened 800 years ago.’ You can’t justify crimes against humanity now by crimes against humanity in the past.”
Jurisevic has now joined the Australian Defence Force reserves and has been to East Timor and Afghanistan but says he would like to spend the next few years in Australia with his wife and three sons.
He is on another campaign, though: he wants to mount a class action against the federal government to force the banning of cigarettes. As a cardiothoracic surgeon, more than 90 per cent of his work involves trying to remove lung tumours from smokers. He says tobacco kills up to 18,000 people a year but the government won’t ban it because it earns $4 billion more in taxes than it costs in healthcare.
“Of all lung cancers diagnosed each year, only 15 per cent will be early enough to be cured by surgery and chemo-radiotherapy . . . The death rate from lung cancer has not changed significantly in the past 30 years,” he says. “The greatest threat to Australian lives today is not terrorism, road trauma or knife crime. It is tobacco.”
The man who loves causes will never lack for one.
Blood on My Hands: A surgeon at war, by Craig Jurisevic, $32.95, e-book $11.25 from

BORN 1965.
FAMILY Married Donna, also a medical specialist; three sons.
WORK IN CONFLICT ZONES Israel and Gaza 1992-3; Albania and Kosovo 1999; East Timor 2006; Afghanistan 2008.
CAREER Cardiothoracic surgeon, senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide, member of the International Humanitarian Law Committee of the Australian Red Cross.

We must protect the poor as we rush to globalisation

SUPERSTITIONS supposedly developed when people noticed coincidences and interpreted them as meaningfully connected. An eclipse of the sun followed by plague? The gods must be angry; future eclipses must be accompanied by propitiatory offerings.

Is something similar happening with trade liberalisation?
It’s a force many westerners have come to associate with high unemployment, rural and regional decline and wages stagnation (for workers, that is). But it has become impossible to disentangle the consequences of trade liberalisation from those of an accompanying factor: the flight of government from its obligation to minimise the collateral damage, that is, the cost to human beings.

Easing the social harm caused by pursuing otherwise desirable goals is not a freakish concept even in business circles, where it’s called “managing change”. But according to a recent assessment by the International Labor Organisation, governments world-wide are struggling to adequately manage the changes wrought by lowered protection and globalisation because tax cuts have limited their ability to do so.

A recent untitled report, prepared for the ILO’s governing body by its working party on the social dimensions of international trade, found that, between the years 1986 and 1998, 67 out of 69 countries examined had cut the top tax rate of high-income

This near-universal trend towards lower taxation suggested that tax systems were becoming less redistributive, the report said. Those making pots of money from the new economic order are not having to share as much of their winnings with those who are being displaced by it.

The report was not written by “Seattle men”. In fact, it concluded that trade liberalisation was good because it stimulated economic activity, boosted productivity, and held out a prospect of raising standards of living, although “the process is neither instantaneous nor painless”. Neither the ILO nor any of the 69 countries it surveyed saw a return to protection as an option.

But the researchers found that, to date, globalisation had deepened the divide between winners and losers, as income gaps widened and states’ ability to improve the lot of their poorest citizens diminished. The report concluded that trade liberalisation alone did nothing to eliminate inequalities or promote social progress within individual nations. The rich are still getting richer and the poor are still getting poorer.

Is anyone surprised?

The ILO director-general, Juan Somavia, warned that “the world cannot divorce social and employment issues from other developments in the global economy if the processes of globalisation are to prove sustainable”. In other words, people won’t cop this indefinitely.

He’s right. Other surveys have found that the nations with the highest violent crime rates tend not to be the poorest but those in which the gap between rich and poor is widest. The fuel for social instability is not poverty alone but a mixture of poverty and resentment.

At this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair tugged their forelocks in the general direction of this problem. Both argued that the new order must take better account of social justice issues and the concerns of “little guys”. Clinton suggested the World Trade Organisation system should be reformed to give more weight to labor standards and the environment.

In this he echoed the ILO report. It advocates strengthening globalisation’s “social pillar”: improved education and training, secure social safety nets, and the adoption of labor laws that both encourage economic adaptability and protect vulnerable groups and core international labor standards.

The difficulty is that such measures require government funding and commitment, but governments worldwide are lowering taxes and winding back employment protections because they fear capital might otherwise flee to more accommodating climes.

If there can be international consensus on lowering trade barriers, there should be efforts to develop consensus on how to buffer those who will suffer from it. Pro-globalisers always try to dismiss this argument by pointing out that the current changes are helping the Third World. They see calls for buffers as self-interested attempts to shore up the unfair advantages of First World economies.

But if the ILO report is correct, the issue is not trade liberalisation itself but the way First World governments have failed to protect their own poor – in particular, unskilled workers – from bearing an unfair part of the burden of change.

Globalisation has an image problem. Opponents vilify it as multinationals using the club of capital to bend governments to their will. If governments continue to retreat from their role as protectors of the common good, they face losing more than just the propaganda war.

Seattle showed that people are becoming angry enough for violence. Future trade concessions should be accompanied by propitiatory offerings on social justice.

First published in The Age.

Third World women the next big-tobacco targets

ONCE UPON a time, there was a beautiful woman with long, blonde hair and even longer legs. She was cool and confident and glamorous, in the original sense of the word; “glamor” used to be a spell of illusion cast by a witch.

That was her line of work, too, in a way. This woman was photographed by a cigarette company nonchalantly holding its product, with the caption, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

And a lot of other women who longed for what she was supposed to symbolise – freedom, autonomy, success – bought the cigarette she was selling. And presumably some of them died for having confused a cancer stick with their dreams.

These days cigarette advertising in Australia is virtually banned, except at the point of sale. But the smoking rates of young women here now outstrip those of young men, and it is feared that worldwide women might eventually overtake men as the chief victims of smoking-related disease.

The tobacco industry has turned its heaviest guns on the young women of the Third World, which is far less regulated than Australia. They are being bombarded with messages linking smoking with Western-style equality, personal freedom and a fashionableness. The World Health Organisation fears the result will be a catastrophic epidemic of tobacco-related illness.

A recent WHO conference on women and smoking in Kobe, Japan, reported that of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers, 200 million are women. That proportion is set to triple in the next 25 years.

In the past decade tobacco companies have managed to double the proportion of smokers among young Japanese women aged 20-29, from 10 per cent in 1986 to 23 per cent this year. In the same period, the overall percentage of Japanese men who smoke fell from 60 per cent to 53 per cent.

WHO reports figures that must have tobacco companies slavering with anticipation: “In China, only 6per cent of women currently smoke, while in Vietnam the figure is just 4per cent. However, if China’s smoking rate for women doubled to near the same rate currently seen in Japan, there would be an additional 40 million smokers in that country alone.”

According to the World Bank, tobacco-induced disease and subsequent health care costs already result in a global net loss of $200billion a year – more than the GNPs of Malaysia and Singapore combined. WHO predicts that by 2025, 10 million people a year will die unnecessarily as a result of smoking, 70 per cent of them in developing countries.

This is a human catastrophe, not just a female one. But there is a growing realisation in international health circles that marketing manipulation of female psychology is a big part of the problem, and that health authorities must tackle the special vulnerabilities of women and girls. The “Kobe Declaration” passed at the conference urged WHO to fully integrate the special needs of women and girls into a proposed international treaty on tobacco control.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will be the first legally binding international treaty aimed at curbing the spread of tobacco products. The aim is to implement it by 2003, and measures being considered include raising tobacco taxes sky-high and banning advertising, promotion and packaging of tobacco products worldwide.

It’s enough to give a cigarette company executive a heart attack. Some might call that karma.

Traditionally Asian women have been protected from the industry’s predations by cultural norms that perceived smoking as unfeminine or a sign of promiscuity. But westernised Asian women with more money for leisure and a belief that smoking is sophisticated and helps with weight control are smoking in increasing numbers.

Even in Australia, research shows significantly more girls than boys aged 14 to 17 are smokers; the you’ve-come-a-long-way-baby syndrome starts young.

It is cruel and paradoxical that women’s healthy goals for themselves – freedom and autonomy – are subverted by marketing into a desire for a product that kills and maims. The supposedly glamorous cigarette damages women in their very femaleness: it causes premature menopause, cancer of the cervix and vulva, infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, and osteoporosis.

The most fitting archetypal association with it is not advertising’s nubile young woman but the hunched, barren, wrinkled crone.

The Kobe conference concluded that the single most effective way of combating the tobacco industry would be raising taxes on cigarettes.

But it seems important for the sake of women’s health that more is done to break the nexus between smoking and perceived glamor. The Kobe conference suggested that all smokes should be packaged in plain black-and-white wrappers covered in health information.

The Canadian Government might have a better idea. It is currently floating proposals to force cigarette packs to carry large and gruesome photos of cancerous lungs or bloodied brains that suffered terminal strokes.

It would be hard to look glamorous hoisting that out of your handbag.

First published in The Age.

Indonesia’s voice of dissent has some good news

GOENAWAN Mohamad’s mother did not raise him to be one of Indonesia’s most prominent dissidents. Perhaps the ghost of his father did.

Mohamad makes a silent shooting gesture to describe how his father died. “He was a political activist. He and my mother were exiled to West Irian in the ’20s, before I was born. They were left wing. Then they brought him home to Java, with my mother. Maybe he cooperated with the Dutch (colonial regime) for a while; I don’t know.

“But after the Japanese were defeated in World War II, the Dutch tried to return. I’m not sure exactly what he did; maybe a lot of meetings. One day they came to fetch him and executed him without trial.”

Mohamad was five. He has few memories and no photographs of his father. His family lost all their mementoes when they fled to the mountains with other guerrillas, leaving the Dutch to seize and burn their homes.

After what had happened to the family, he says, his mother did not want to instil political activism in her six children. “But education was the first priority. My father told my mother, `If anything happens to me, you should bury your jewellery so you can use it for the children’s education.”‘

She did just that, helping mould a son who became an analytic and relentless critic of government repression. For more than 25 years Mohamad was managing editor of Tempo magazine, Indonesia’s equivalent of Time and one of the few publications to report fearlessly on the nation’s politics.

In 1994, President Suharto banned Tempo for its uncompromising coverage of an expensive Government defence bungle, sparking worldwide protests. Mohamad fought hard against the ban – late last year, in the era of Reformasi, the magazine was relaunched – and has written widely on Indonesian identity, democracy and freedom. His book of essays, Sidelines: Writings from Tempo, was published in Australia in 1994.

He left Tempo last year to devote himself to the Institute for the Study of the Free Flow of Information, a body he created to circumvent government censorship. He was in Melbourne this week to deliver the Asialink 1999 Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Walkley Asia Media Lecture.

How was he drawn to journalism? “Well, I always wanted to be a writer, and writing doesn’t pay, really.” He gives a conspiratorial chuckle. “Journalism is a good combination, and in my case it brought a lot of money, when I was the editor.”

It also brought surveillance of his house, tapping of his phones and, during two separate bans on Tempo, loss of his job and income. “When we were banned for the first time, I told my friends that working in this kind of job you had to be prepared for the worst. That’s why you have to marry spouses who have jobs.”
He laughs again, amused by the pragmatic requirements of a life of subversion. He and others have maintained their covert networks despite the recent freeing up of media. Publications no longer need a government licence and the Department of Information has been disbanded, but Mohamad does not trust to the future.

“When you have gone through this long period of repression, you never take freedom for granted. That’s why we still have the underground.”

After Tempo was banned, one group of journalists used the Internet to set up Tempo Online – “We had to stay visible; we had to demonstrate to the Government that we defied them” – while Mohamad founded ISAI using principles established by Palestinians under Israeli rule.

“We created forum meetings in several places in Indonesia. We trained students to improve their political communication skills, gave awards to the best student newspaper. We created underground publications, books, magazines and even a news agency on the Internet. The Government focused on Tempo Online, but other channels were being created without the Government’s knowledge.

“The number of people with access to phone lines and computers was and is very small. But this forum we created, the student groups, they downloaded material and printed it and distributed it. Sometimes they sold it to finance the movement. Indonesia now has a more organised underground and information network than ever.”

Media freedom depends on democracy, and Mohamad is wary because Indonesia’s democracy is still fragile. “It faces many problems. First, the so-called national disintegration (the unrest in places such as Aceh and the Moluccas, chafing under the rule of central government). I think the break-up is inevitable because the present government and the past government have done too little, too late. Second, the weakness of the democratic traditions like political parties, local governments and labor unions.”

These make attempts to establish a democratic regime “like reinventing Indonesia”, he says. “It’s like issuing a new edition of the country. So now that we have a government that’s popularly elected, it’s rather amateurish and dangerously erratic. The President travels so much; he says the Australian Government is being childish.” He shakes his head.

Australians are often accused of misunderstanding Asia. Mohamad himself once accused the Australian media of regarding the Indonesian Government’s aversion to them as an inverted compliment. He said Australians were not willing to take the time to learn what Indonesia was like. Now he takes a softer, more reflective line on cross-cultural confusion.

“Nobody can claim that he or she can understand Indonesia, not even Indonesians. And newspapers are not only the creation of journalists; they are also the creation of the reader. In poetry and fiction you don’t have to really worry about what the readers are aware of; in journalism you have to. Every time you want to write, even if you are smart and very knowledgeable about the country, you have to think about your reader in Australia or Ireland or Brazil.

“It’s not just culture. It’s geography, it’s history, it’s the limit of the human capacity to know. What do Indonesians know about Malaysia or Australia? Nothing. So why should we blame others for not understanding us?”

Mohamad’s life journey, like his father’s, has been interwoven with the historic ebb and flow of forces in his nation. As a public figure who has vigorously championed free speech, he is much admired. Is he a hero?

He is instantly dismissive. “I believe `hero’ is a false identity. What matters is not being a hero; what matters in the human life is heroic deeds. Somebody who did heroic acts might also some day do stupid acts, indefensible things, and to proclaim someone a hero is to put him or her in a category where you forgive everything of them. So I believe in heroic acts, but not heroes.”

But he does admit to putting one man on a pedestal: “Mandela. He saved the 20th century from cynicism. The most valuable thing a person can do for his fellow human beings is to create hope, and to create hope is not to talk about the future but to indicate that mankind is worthwhile.”

He falls silent. A good journalist recognises when no more need be said.

First published in The Age.

If abortion is a religious issue, why is the state involved?

I ONCE met a woman who taught sex education in a Catholic school. She was warm and enthusiastic and transparently sincere. She told me Catholic schools had changed, and that she was able to teach girls they had choices about their sexuality.

“They can choose to be chaste until marriage, or they can choose to be the town bike,” she said, beaming. “Uh, huh,” was the most neutral response I could muster.

She was as entitled to her belief in the two absolutes – chastity or promiscuity – as I was to my belief that there is a responsible middle course involving neither. And her attitude was no skin off my nose because she was never going to impose it on me or mine; she moulded children whose parents sought out an educational system imbued with those values. Each to their own.

If only there were such a clear division between church and state in the abortion debate. This is an arena where those driven by religious belief often wield power out of all proportion to their support in the community.

Last week a visiting American doctor was detained and told he would be deported or imprisoned if he advocated “activities” in relation to abortion. This followed lobbying of the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, by anti-abortion groups.

In America, President Bill Clinton has agreed to limit aid for international family planning initiatives that support abortion. Republican congressional leaders have for years refused to pass Budget legislation allowing the US to pay its back dues to the United Nations unless Clinton agreed to the restrictions.

Although pro-choice himself – heaven help any man married to Hillary who wasn’t – Clinton capitulated this time because the US faced losing its seat in the UN General Assembly if the debts remained unpaid. Now organisations funded by US money will be forbidden to lobby for liberalised abortion laws.

There will be little joy about that among desperate women in countries such as Nepal, where six women a day die from botched illegal abortions and two-thirds of women in prison are there for abortion or infanticide.

Like the sex ed teacher, these Republicans deal in moral absolutes: abortion is always wrong, never mind poverty or illness, rape or incest or despair. But, unlike the sex ed teacher, they are in a position to impose their views on others who differ.

The power of the American anti-choice movement is understandable. Opposition to abortion is strongly linked to church attendance, and a third of Americans regularly front up in their Sunday best, compared with only one-fifth of Australians.

The US is also a country in which the separation of church and state has favored religion. Its founding fathers, having fled persecution in the old world, focused more on protecting freedom of worship from state intervention than protecting the sovereignty of the state from religion.

But why is it that Australian anti-abortion campaigners – most of whom have strong links to churches – have so much political influence?

It’s certainly not because they speak for the community. Research findings released this week suggest only three in a hundred Australians oppose abortion under all circumstances.

Among the 2151 people surveyed, 97per cent said abortion should be allowed in cases of danger to the mother’s health, 92 per cent after rape, and 88 per cent where there was a strong likelihood of a serious birth defect. Most said abortion should be allowed for reasons such as poverty, unwed motherhood, or couples wanting no more children.

These views do not fit with abortion’s continued position in the Victorian criminal code. They do not fit with restrictions on the morning-after pill RU486, or the inability of many rural women to gain access to abortion services.

The report said the abortion debate remains very much a religious matter, with churchgoing the single most important factor differentiating opponents from supporters.

It concluded that “the separation of church and state” is actually a polite fiction that can be maintained only in the face of consensus about central values. Where the two do separate over values, there is friction, with abortion providing the clearest example.

The results of a previous survey tell us how Australians think such conflicts should be handled: only one-third believes it is appropriate for religious leaders to try to influence government decisions.

There is a case for churches to speak out on social justice issues because they are such big providers of services to those in need. Their dictates on reproductive morality are another matter.

Extremism in relation to abortion has declined in the past decade. Most Australians have come to understand that this painful, tragic, private business is a bad thing in itself, but justifiable if it avoids something even worse. They have abandoned the false certainty of black-and-white positions to grapple with the complexities of greys.

Some will see the shift away from the absolutism of “never” as godlessness. Most of us, though, will recognise it as a moral coming-of-age.

First published in The Age.

The painful secrets of East Timor’s women

The first shock came when her husband fled. He feared the Indonesian troops invading East Timor in 1975 and jumped on to a ship and out of her life. “Maria”, as she wants to be known, struggled to keep going with her four children in the war-torn city of Dili. She cooked food and sent the children out into the streets to try to sell it.

She never grew used to the soldiers. They knew there was no man in the house. They would come by at four in the morning, battering on her door, demanding to search for freedom fighters or ammunition. They never found either but took whatever they fancied – watches, suitcases, clothes. Then came the night that three of them fancied something she could not let them take: her daughters, aged 10 and 11.

Maria tells the story sitting under a shady plane tree in Melbourne, her fingers twisting a handkerchief, her eyes red with tears she refuses to shed. She had sent the girls to hide with a neighbor. She had heard stories about mass rapes in the villages, about groups of women forced into long-term sexual slavery. “Because they couldn’t find my daughters they were very angry,” she says, through an interpreter.

“All along they had just wanted to come into my house to demonstrate how powerful they were. When they couldn’t get my daughters, they forced me instead.” She told no one of the pack rape. Even the child born of it, who is now a teenager, does not know.

Many of Timor’s women carry terrible secrets. A new report published by the East Timor Human Rights Centre says that Indonesian authorities, and in particular the military, have systematically violated the human rights of Timorese women. They have been forcibly sterilised, coerced into accepting contraception and raped so routinely that some Timorese families teach their girls at home because they fear they will be attacked on the way to school. Others lose access to education because their parents fear that school “vaccinations” might be the controversial injectable contraceptive, Depo Provera.

The report, From One Day to Another: Violations of Women’s Reproductive and Sexual Rights in East Timor, was written by Miranda Sissons, an Australian now based at the Yale Centre for International Studies in America. This report and another by Dr George Aditjondro, a lecturer at NSW’s University of Newcastle, were prepared for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. The Special Rapporteur is due to report to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva next May on the issue of state-sponsored violence against women.

Sissons’ report concentrates on alleged abuses by the Indonesian national family planning program. In the 1980s this included the forcible injection of schoolgirls with Depo Provera and the covert sterilisation of women who were admitted to hospital for other procedures such as caesarean delivery or appendectomy. There were also stories of babies aborted or killed after birth by hospital staff. Aditjondro documents rape, sexual slavery and prostitution.
Sissons, who visited East Timor as part of her research, found that women had been denied medical treatment in life-threatening circumstances. Some had died after being refused care while in labor. Sissons reports that soldiers round women up for sterilisation or contraceptive “safaris”, and that no follow-up care is readily available for women who later have trouble with the IUDs or injectable hormones given to them.
Sissons says that Indonesian women in other provinces are sometimes treated brutally in relation to population control measures but abuses have been more widespread and extreme in Timor because of its isolation; Indonesian authorities refuse to allow
human rights monitors into the island.

The abuses have convinced many Timorese that the family planning program is being used to bring about the genocide of their people. How, they ask, can Indonesia justify forcing contraception on a nation that lost a third of its population following the 1975 invasion? “There is no good answer to that,” Sissons says. “There’s a very strong belief that this is about ethnic dilution, and it’s not totally unjustified.”

The fear is so great that many now refuse to use the Indonesian-run health services. Sissons says that, partly as a result of this informal boycotting, the death rate in East Timor is the worst in South-East Asia and its infant mortality outstrips even Rwanda’s.

Many have suffered like “Maria”. Ordinary Timorese women, officials and refugees told Sissons that “Rape and other kinds of sexual violence have become embedded in Timor in the last 20 years.”

Dr Aditjondro says that rape is the most common form of torture perpetrated against East Timorese women and is used as a political weapon to subdue, punish, humiliate and “dilute” the local population. It is mostly inflicted on women living in poor, isolated communities, but Aditjondro says that many female relatives of freedom fighters have been raped by soldiers as a form of revenge, including a sister of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. Another kind of abuse is “forced marriage”, in which a soldier appropriates a young woman to live with him for the duration of his tour of duty. The woman and any children of the union are abandoned when he returns home. Other women are used as “sex slaves”, confined to a house where they must service the local troops.

“Rape and prostitution are linked,” Aditjondro says. “The victims of rape often become very marginalised because they are in a traditional Catholic society where virginity before marriage is highly prized. Often the shame of the woman herself is enough to drive her into prostitution. So the military gets to continuously benefit from its sexual abuse.”

Timor is also experiencing a phenomenon similar to Australia’s “stolen generation” of Aboriginal children farmed out to whites. Aditjondro says that the orphaned children of freedom fighters are “stolen” by the military to be raised in Indonesia, where they grow up learning nothing of their Timorese heritage.

“Maria” has kept her mixed-race child. “It’s not her fault,” she says. “She wasn’t the one who created all this pain. I can’t reject her. She still is my daughter as well. I feel that, in the end, life is given by God.”

It was a struggle for her to reach this point. After the rape, and when she discovered she was pregnant, she wanted to kill herself. “But then I worried about my other children,” she says helplessly. “Who would look after them?” As it turned out, even she could not look after all of them. One son was killed by Indonesian troops who opened fire on the group of friends he was talking to in the street. It was then that she decided the family should come to Australia. She has tried to put the past behind her.

She is not altogether successful. She walks heavily, as if carrying a great burden, and seems to have no plans for her own life other than to endure for the sake of her children. Here is the only question with which she cannot cope: Since the rape, has she been able to feel happiness? Her iron control breaks. She buries her face in her hands and weeps, silently.

First published in The Age.

Love and the constant crusader

Shirley Shackleton has spent 20 years seeking justice for a brutal crime that continues to influence how Australians view Indonesia. 

He is preserved on film as forever young. His last photos show his dark good looks as he talks to the camera in front of a thatched hut; it was a microphone, not a gun, that he carried off to the war that killed him. But she is a grandmother now, greyed, rounded, wrinkled. “Someone described me recently as Greg Shackleton’s mother,” Shirley Shackleton says placidly, not offended by the mistake. “And I thought, `Yes, I’m getting older, but he always stays the same’. ” She insists that inwardly, too, she has changed and moved on from that terrible time. Monday will be the 20th anniversary of the day her husband, Greg, and four of his colleagues, members of two Australian-based television news teams, were murdered by Indonesian troops invading the East Timor town of Balibo. At the time Indonesia was denying plans to take over the territory but Timorese were alleging that troops had already crossed the border. The journalists had gone to find out the truth.

Shackleton agrees to interviews to help publicise the continuing misery of the Timorese, but is angry that the media have frozen her in time as something she has been determined not to be: a weeping widow, a cob-webbed Miss Havisham whose life stopped when she lost her one true love. She says that she doesn’t need sympathy but the Timorese do. Look to the needs of the living; there is nothing to be done for the dead.

But Shirley Shackleton’s dead husband, and the Timor issue itself, are not yet buried. Her widowhood, and her insistence on taking a public stand against Indonesian abuses to the north, have helped keep the Timor debate in front of Australians.

The events that ignited her fury 20 years ago the slaughter of non-combatants by a foreign government and the refusal of her own to protest about it are in the past. But the policies that led to the deaths of at Balibo Indonesia’s determination to suppress Timor and Australia’s commitment to countenancing it continue to cause suffering.

And Shackleton, like an enraged prophet of the Old Testament, will not cease her public denunciations. Recently it was to a class of primary school children. “Can anyone tell me of any country on Earth that would allow another country to come in and take over? Can you imagine that happening here? Would your parents just say, `Oh, they’re going to take the house, the school, your clothes, your toys, but that’s all right, just let them do it?’ They said, `No!’ I said, `Well, that’s what your government wants you to think happened in Timor’. ” Then she made half of the students sit down and told those standing, “You’re still alive; they’re all dead. That’s what happened in Timor.” She will not go away; she will not temper her words. Perhaps for Indonesia, the biggest mistake at Balibo was killing a man loved by someone as determined and as bloody- minded as Shirley Shackleton.

Shackleton lives on her own, except for the occasional guest, in a battered weatherboard close to town. It overflows with the clutter of a busy life. She is small, intense and voluble.

Words pour from her in torrents, seeming to reveal all but somehow leaving a sense something is sheltered inside.

Her days are full. She has just finished writing the first of a trilogy of novels, she’s fighting the Grand Prix at Albert Park “It’s just like East Timor; those bastards believe they can take what they like and to hell with the consequences for the people” and there is the campaign to free Timor.

This year she has talked about Timor in Perth, Brisbane and Canberra; Sydney is next, and she expects invitations from Japan and Portugal.

While grief has not frozen her, there is no doubt the killing has been a defining event in her life. “Sometimes I think I didn’t really grieve properly at all,” she says. “Sometimes I think there’s a big dark hole down there and one day there’s going to be hell to pay.

“But I can tell you this: if you can even imagine a role for yourself in that state you’re in, whether it’s full grief or part grief, then you’re on the way to good mental health.

And the role I saw for myself was to never ask for publicity, and never to cry in public, but to ask questions that any Australian had the right to ask what happened to my husband and his colleagues? and to give out information (about Timor) as I
have received it.”
She will always wonder how much Greg and the others suffered, and heard one horrific story on her 1989 visit to Timor that she lowers her voice to repeat: “They hung them up by their mouths and threw short knives at them and built fires under them. I was told that story by two different Timorese, and two priests that I mentioned it to said it was common there now, to put fear into people. `It’s nothing for us to come out in the morning and find someone hanging from a tree outside his house in that way, penis and ears cut off, bleeding to death . . .’ ” James Dunn does not believe the news crews died that way: “I think she goes a little overboard in some things,” he says. But Mr Dunn, a former Australian consul to Timor and author of Timor: A People Betrayed, says he has an affection for Shackleton and her work and that she has been significant in helping keep the Timor issue alive in Australia.

“I think Shirley’s important in that she’s the blood link with the (journalist) victims. Of all the relatives of the victims, she has been the most continually outspoken; the passion has never subsided.” The Shackleton marriage had not been a bed of roses. They were separated when Greg went on the Timor assignment, but undecidedly so. They married when he was 20 and she was 33 and had a child soon afterwards; their son Evan went to his dad’s 21st birthday party. She still thought of Greg, then 28, as her best friend, and he was insistent that they not seek the finality of divorce.

Before he went to Timor he made her promise to sell the house to raise money to free him if captured. “And he knew I would. That shows the closeness of the relationship, that he would even ask.”
There has been no funeral, no grave, no big inquiry; no formal moment of farewell or finality. The only certainty is that whatever happened was painful and unjust. It leaves Shackleton with no shields against the similar ways in which the East Timorese suffer now.

“What does it matter how terrible it was for me?” she asks fiercely. “It was terrible, but I was still eating, I wasn’t getting raped when I walked out of my front door, I didn’t say goodbye to my son every morning and wonder if I would ever see him again, which is what’s happening in Timor.

” Shackleton says she talks about the past only if asked.
She has seen what happens to people who let it eat into their lives. The deaths might have been at Balibo but the consequences have fallen like dominoes in lives in Melbourne. Greg’s uncle committed suicide; so did his mother. “(She) committed suicide not because Greg was killed but because Australian politicians obviously didn’t give a stuff.”
She does not believe that there is any purpose to the death and destruction that events in Timor have brought to her family: “If there is, it’s a very shoddy purpose.” But she sees a certain serendipity to some events. As a result of an interview she did with the BBC, she met a man from Yorkshire Television.

Because of what she told him he went to Timor, made a documentary and left a young cameraman there on salary. The cameraman’s film of the 1991 massacre of Timorese civilians in Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery was flashed around the world.

What would it take for her to let Timor go? The Indonesians out, she says. And it would help to lay Greg’s ghost if the men who killed him had to face court to explain their actions: “Proper respect must be paid, and the rule of law observed.

” And if Timor were free? She might go over and help them rebuild. She might go to Iran; she’s always had a fondness for their nomads. Wonderful weavers.

As we leave her house she notices a cat on the footpath, padding about in the self-contained way that cats do. She scoops it into her arms, suddenly full of concern. “I haven’t seen this one before. And where do you live? The tag says number 36, I’ll just make sure the owner knows it’s out . . .” The world has no knights on white chargers, but there are always the Shirley Shackletons.

First published in The Age.