08 September 2012

But what about the kids?

According to this article in the Saturday 8 September edition of The Age, the jailing of three members of Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot sparked a formal complaint from Australia over the "disproportionate" two-year sentence handed down to them.

The band members were jailed for "hooliganism" after a provocative performance in a Moscow cathedral in February when they sang lyrics critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There is no doubt that the sentences were disproportionate, but it is hard to escape the feeling that this was rather a low cost demonstration of concern on the part of our Government about a human rights issue – making representations on behalf of three lively and attractive young middle class women who set out to push the boundaries of what the Russian Church and the Russian State are prepared to wear. That will play well in the suburbs, they are people we can relate to, they are our sort of people in a way, and their will be no domestic constituency to speak of that will come out in support of Putin.

And the formal representations on their behalf will have been a very civilised affair; no-one will have got hot under the collar about it. Someone from the Embassy will have gone in “on instruction” and gone through the motions of recording our Government’s deep concern, will have been told that our Government’s views have been noted, no doubt given a cup of tea, a bit of “how’s your father?” and that will be that, but our protest will be on the record.

I wonder how often we express deep concern about

Israel's practice of holding Palestinian children in solitary confinement and denying them legal representation, as well as its use of physical violence, shackles and coerced confessions in interrogations

as reported by Ruth Pollard in this article from the 27 August edition of The Age, relying on the detailed testimony of “veteran soldiers in detailed statements chronicling dozens of brutal incidents”. Other acts of violence reported by the veterans include forcing the children to act as human shields in military operations and “the wounding and killing of children in the occupied West Bank and Gaza by either targeted shooting or by failing to protect minors during military operations”.

From the quoted accounts by the Israeli veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence, it is clear that the treatment of the Palestinian children is arbitrary and disproportionate.

So I wonder just how often we formally register our concern about this behaviour. That would require intestinal fortitude of an entirely different order on the part of our Governmentthe Israelis would come back hot and strong and domestic constituencies would react.

The matter gets worse when you consider a fundamental difference between the young women of Pussy Riot and the Palestinian children whose arrest may or may not be the result of their throwing stones or other forms of protest. 

The Pussy Riot members are Russian citizens who were arrested in their own country for actions they don’t deny taking, and tried in a Russian court. They had a choice; if they had not taken the actions the Russian State would presumably have left them alone.  This is not to defend what happened to them in any way – the treatment they received was unconscionably harsh - but they must have gone into this with their eyes open, they must have known this was going to get them into serious trouble.

The Palestinian children, on the other hand, have few if any choices. They are minors living under a brutal military occupation, and the treatment they receive is, by the testimony of the veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence, not only harsh but deliberately arbitrary – to make sure that the people under occupation know no peace, to create “the feeling of being chased” by being subjected to military incursions into their homes at any hour of the day or night. Keeping your head down and causing no offence is no guarantee that you won’t be hauled off in the dead of night with your hands tied tightly behind your back and thrown into solitary confinement – that is the whole idea.

So I am afraid I cannot see the protests about the treatment of the Pussy Riot members as a particularly courageous act on the part of our Government, and I cannot see the violation of their human rights as the case most deserving of our official attention.

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