by Sonny Inbaraj
(IPS) DARWIN --
the government of Prime Minister John Howard marches on with one racial misstep after another, Australia's international reputation could take a battering at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Aboriginal activists threatened April 3 to hold violent protests at the Olympics later this year after the government said they exaggerated the effects of a decades-long policy of taking Native children from their parents and resettling them with white families. Dubbed the "stolen generation," the practice may have disrupted 1 out of 3 Native familes between 1910 and the 1970s.
On Apr. 2, New South Wales' 118 Aboriginal land councils voted to march in protest on Sept. 16, the first day of Olympic competition. There was still no government reaction to the planned protest, even after hundreds of protesters heckled Howard and his Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron.
The Aboriginal backlash came following publication April 1 of a leaked report by Herron to the Senate's Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee saying the "stolen generation" policy had affected no more than 10 percent of families -- not whole generations as previously claimed.
He said stories of widespread removal of Aboriginal children from their families were exaggerated and that the removals that did occur were for lawful reasons "as occurs under child welfare policies today."
John Howard apologized on April 6 and again on the 7th for pain caused by the report, but stood behind Senator Herron, saying the report was a factual analysis of the issues and a restatement of the government's position.
latest controversy comes a week after a United Nations committee blasted Australia over mandatory jail laws for juveniles and the treatment of its Native population saying Canberra could be in breach of the UN Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.
Outraged by the report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Race Discrimination, the government announced it was planning to turn its back on the United Nations' international treaty system.
In an unprecedented snub, the Federal Cabinet ordered a "whole-of-government review of the United Nations treaty committee system as it affects Australia."
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters Australia had to stand up for itself against the UN committee, which included representatives from non-democratic countries like Cuba, China and Pakistan.
"People who are critical of the Australian Government need to reflect on this point; do they really think it's right for a United Nations committee, which includes people from Cuba and from China and Pakistan, to start getting involved in debate about whether the Prime Minister should say sorry or not for the stolen generation," he said. "I mean, Australians aren't going to cop that."
month Howard told the media that reconciliation with Australia's Native people will not happen soon, reneging on his October 1998 promise after his second election victory, that he was "committed to the true cause of reconciliation by January 2001."
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp later rebroadcast in Australia, prominent Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins -- himself a member of the stolen generation -- said the Howard government's claim would force Aborigines into direct conflict with the white Australian community.
"Certainly, the Olympic Games will now be in jeopardy and are going to be very violent," he said. "We are telling all the British people, please, don't come over. If you want to see burning cars and burning buildings, then come over," Perkins said. "Enjoy yourself."
Perkins, one of the main representatives of his community, later played down his comments, but when asked about protests, he told Australia's Channel Nine television: "It's 'burn, baby, burn' from now on. Anything can happen."
As the outrage grows, acclaimed Aboriginal artist Justine Saunders returned the Order of Australia medal awarded to her in 1991 in protest against government claims that there was no "stolen generation."
Speaking on the Seven Network's Today Tonight program, Saunders, who was taken from her mother at age 11, said she was still dealing with the aftermath of being a stolen child.
"When I was taken, the government did not tell (my mother) where I was for 10 to 15 years, and mum had to walk through half of Queensland to try to find out where her daughter was being held," she said.
"(The medal) meant a lot to me... but I'm giving that back to the government that has told me my past was a lie. To tell me I did not go through that. How dare you -- the arrogance of that person."
Northern Territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) commissioner Gatjil Djerrkura said the Howard government will not be able to avoid international criticism during the Sydney Olympics.
Officially ATSIC has issued a statement saying it would not support any boycott of the Sydney Olympics in protest against the government's stance on Native issues.
But Djerrkura said only time will tell what Aborigines will do. "Indigenous people around Australia will see this as an opportunity to echo their voice and echo their concerns of the way in which this country is treating its indigenous Australians, and that's something that will be beyond anyone's control."
April 17, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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