Friday, October 3, 2008

Canada: Aboriginal justice workers decry Tories' plan to end house arrest sentences

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's latest tough-on-crime measures are getting a harsh review from aboriginal justice workers, who say they fear his move to end conditional sentencing for more than 30 crimes will lead to more aboriginal Canadians in jails.

Jonathan Rudin, a lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto, said the Conservatives' proposed measures do not take into account what the government's own statistics indicate is a fundamental imbalance in sentencing for aboriginal Canadians in the criminal justice system.

About three per cent of Canada's population is aboriginal, but they make up about 20 per cent of the prison population, according to Statistics Canada.

"It's not that aboriginal people are more prone to criminality, it's that when aboriginal people commit crime, they go to jail," Rudin told CBC News. "Whereas when non-aboriginal people commit crime, they don't necessarily go to jail."

When asked on Tuesday how his plan to cut down on conditional sentencing would affect aboriginal people, Harper acknowledged that they were more likely to be convicted of a crime.

But he added aboriginal people are also disproportionately more likely to be themselves victims of crimes, and said the measures would give those people the justice they deserve.

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Wealthy investors hoard bullion

Investors in gold are demanding "unprecedented" amounts of bullion bars and coins and moving them into their own vaults as fears about the health of the global financial system deepen.

Industry executives and bankers at the London Bullion Market Association annual meeting said the extent of the move into physical gold was unseen and driven by the very rich.

"There is an enormous pick-up in investment demand. I have never seen a market like this in my 33-year career," said Jeremy Charles, chairman of the LBMA. "The gold refineries cannot produce enough bars."

The move comes as fears grow among investors over the losses at investment vehicles previously considered almost risk-free, such as money funds.

Philip Clewes-Garner, associate director of precious metals at HSBC, added that investors were not flying into gold simply because they saw it as a haven amid Wall Street's woes. "It is a flight into gold because it is a physical asset," he said.

"Vault staff are also doing overtime," another banker at the LBMA meeting said, adding that investors in some countries were paying premiums of up to $25 an ounce above the London spot price to secure scarce gold bars.

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Poland's last communist leader pleads not guilty

Poland's last communist leader denied Thursday that he led an organized criminal group intent on depriving people of freedom when he imposed martial law in a 1981 crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity movement.

Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, 85, dismissed as unfounded the charges brought against him by the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body that investigates communist-era crimes.

"I often repeat the words: I regret, I deplore, I apologize, especially in relation to death, suffering and pain" caused during the crackdown, Jaruzelski told the four-judge panel hearing the case. "But that does not mean I plead guilty to charges as presented in the indictment."

It was the first time Jaruzelski had the opportunity to speak at his trial, which opened Sept. 12.

Jaruzelski and six other former officials are charged with violating article 258 of the penal code, which prohibits membership in an organized criminal group, as well as keeping people captive.

In addition, they are charged with violating the communist-era constitution by approving the decree that introduced martial law.

Jaruzelski argued that the decision to impose martial law on Dec. 13, 1981, and arrest hundreds of Solidarity leaders and activists was dictated by what he called a "higher compulsion."

"Martial law was an evil, but it saved Poland from a multidimensional catastrophe," Jaruzelski said — a reference to his long-standing insistence that the crackdown saved the country from a Soviet military intervention.

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New Zealand: The Maori struggle for land and life

The Maori People of Aotearoa (New Zealand) are now standing at a crossroads, forced to choose between sovereignty and colonialism. Within the recent Maori settlement program, the government offers large sums of money and small fragments of land. In exchange, the Maori are expected to give up their independence and become New Zealand citizens. Recent history shows that the New Zealand government is more than willing to use intimidation and violence to control and assimilate the Maori.

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori leadership and the colonial state resulted in massive land seizures and violence against the Maori. The current land claims process is a renewal of this tragic legacy of repression. One major difference between then and now is that in the past the Maori refused to let go of their sovereignty -- always maintaining they did not intend to cede it. We can see that's true, given that the original treaty "does not use the Maori word for 'sovereignty,' kingitanga, or even the Maori word for 'independence,' rangatiritanga." Kevin Jon Heller, a law professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, points out:

[T]he British had to have known that the Maori did not intend to cede sovereignty to the Queen. In 1835, the British and the Maori had signed the Declaration of Independence, in which the British guaranteed that the Maori chiefs would maintain sovereignty over their land. The Declaration made use of all three of the words that are at the heart of the dispute over the Treaty, with the British translating rangatiritanga as "independence," kingitanga as "sovereign power and authority," and kawanatanga as "functions of government." How then could the British have honestly believed a mere five years later — with many of the same British officials present at the signing of both documents — that Article 1's use of the term kawanatanga, as opposed to kingitanga, meant that the Maori were giving up their sovereignty?

In retrospect, we can assume that belief had nothing to do with it. After all, New Zealand has never acknowledged the original treaty as anything but a 'courtesy.' The real treaty, they say, is the English translation they drew after the original. This version, of course, plainly states the Maori ceded their rights:

The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole Sovereigns thereof.

In any case, "the question is now moot," says Heller. "New Zealand courts have long since given up trying to determine the "true" meaning of the Treaty. Now they — and the Waitangi Tribunal, which makes recommendations to the government concerning Maori grievances — simply apply the so-called "Treaty Principles" [which are based on the English treaty]."

Heller's right to say it's moot, but the New Zealand government's insistence is little more than a desperate plea. They simply can't afford to respect the Maori version, which would be an admission that they committed fraud, would could in turn de-legitimize the state, or at least force them to acknowledge the Maori's rights. The only thing would be expected to do to avoid this was to make it into a non-issue, and then pray the Maori buy into it. As we can gather from the recent wave of settlements, a vast number of the Maori leadership is doing just that.

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Non-violent peace brigades

The United Nations General Assembly has designated October 2 as the International Day of Nonviolence. October 2 is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhi, non-violence was at the center of his philosophy and actions. Thus it is appropriate to mark the day with an analysis of one aspect of non-violent action: the role of peace teams as observers in conflict situations.
 
[ ... ]
 
There have been a good number of efforts to create non-violent teams which could work internationally somewhat on the model that Mahatma Gandhi and his followers developed in India, the Shanti Sena, to work primarily in local communal tensions.(1) One of the first and most ambitious was the proposed "Peace Army" to be a 'living wall' between the advancing Japanese Army and the Chinese defenders of Shanghai in 1932. The effort, based in the UK, was offered to the League of Nations, but since the League was not planning to get involved, nothing came of the effort. Japan continued its conquest.

A second opportunity to show the effectiveness of non-violent inter-positioning came in August 1981 with the newly created US-Canada-based Peace Brigades International (PBI). In August 1981, there was a fear that US troop maneuvers in Honduras on the frontier with Nicaragua would be a prelude for a US or a US-aided attack on the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. PBI was able to draw upon an already existing team of people in southern California, some of whom were trained in radio transmission. The team had already trained together and built up a 'team spirit'. The team was able top move out quickly. Negotiations with diplomats from Nicaragua and Honduras were carried out at the UN in New York as part of the PBI secretariat was in Philadelphia, in easy reach of New York. After the US-Hondourous maneuvers finished, the fear of a real invasion ended, and the PBI team was withdrawn.

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