Pariah state: ‘Something really ugly’ about Australia’s foreign policy

Mar 2, 2021

In summing up the malign influence of the Murdoch media in the UK, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger commented: “We’ve allowed something really ugly to happen in this country…” The same has to be said about the ugliness of Australian foreign policy, with the Murdoch media bearing some responsibility for uncritical support of nefarious practices.

Early last month, on February 5, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda, announced that the court, after five long years of examination, had the legal right to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israelis and by Palestinians.

Israel’s foreign ministry immediately instructed its overseas ambassadors to get foreign affairs ministers to issue public statements of opposition and to tell Bensouda personally “not to move forward”, threatening that “if an investigation against Israel starts it will create a continuous crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority …”

Two days later, Australia and the US had complied. Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that the ICC “has no jurisdiction in relation to “the situation in Palestine” and that “Australia does not recognise a “state of Palestine”.

Ironic, since it was an Australian, Bert Evatt, who presided at the United Nations when the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and a Palestinian state was approved. Some 138 of 193 UN member states now recognise the State of Palestine, after the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine to a “non-member observer statein 2012. If Palestine is not yet a fully sovereign state it is because Israel, the US and Australia have made every effort to prevent it.

Bensouda and the ICC have been under sustained attack from the US and Israel ever since its Israeli investigation was first mooted, after about 2000 Palestinian civilians were killed in Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014, and more than 200 unarmed civilians had been killed in rallies held at the Gaza border from 2018.

As revenge against the ICC’s impertinence, in 2020 the Trump regime imposed sanctions on Fatou Bensouda and another African national heading the ICC’s prosecution jurisdiction division. They are forbidden entry to the US, any assets or property is frozen, and US citizens and companies are banned from doing business with them. Secretary of State Pompeo added that any who “materially support those individuals risk exposure to sanctions as well”.

 It’s been noted that out of the five top officials in the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor, sanctions have only been imposed on the two who happen to be African nationals. That a black woman dares to challenge the male rulers of white colonial settler states is no doubt unbearable.

As a result of the sustained personal abuse, Bensouda has announced her retirement in June. This will be a loss to that vague entity called the ‘international community’. She is an award-winning international jurist and was included in the BBC’s list of the world’s 100 most inspiring and influential women. She works for gender equity in a leadership network group; is on the board of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights; and works on a Gambian committee tackling “harmful traditional practices” such as female genital mutilation.

But for Marise Payne, Minister for Women, sisterhood with Bensouda was out of the question. Australia is always ready to make a mockery of international law and norms. This was again obvious last year when Israel requested the Morrison government to tell the ICC that Israeli perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity should not be prosecuted. To Australia’s shame, Morrison and Marise Payne obliged, and of course the ICC rightly refused this disgraceful bid for impunity.

In September 2020 the European Union not only urged the US to drop the sanctions against ICC staff, calling these “unacceptable and unprecedented measures that attempt to obstruct the Court’s investigations and judicial proceedings”, but also added that impunity must never be an option”. What were our leaders thinking? As the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands commented, “The ICC is crucial in the fight against impunity and upholding the international rule of law.”

Our government’s disregard of international law follows the disgraceful rip-off of East Timor, conducted over decades by Foreign Ministers and DFAT bureaucrats. Whistleblowers and witnesses are facing prison, and are embroiled in secret trials at the behest of the Morrison government and Attorney-General Christian Porter: proceedings described by the Law Council of Australia as an offence against open justice.

Top silk Bret Walker SC’s offer to represent Bernard Collaery, former ACT Attorney-General and counsel for East Timor’s leader Xanana Gusmao and ‘Witness K’ from ASIS, was impeded, and Collaery was warned not to publish his book outlining the facts.

Nevertheless Oil Under Troubled Water: Australia’s Timor Sea Intrigue came out last year, and this jeremiad should be read by all Australians. Collaery’s book is a blow-by-blow description of the struggle of East Timor to gain independence and then, as one of the world’s poorest countries, to gain its fair share of the oil and gas produced in the so-called Timor Gap.

Collaery names and shames politicians and bureaucrats and takes aim at the hypocrisy embedded in our foreign policy with its “self-deluded claims of Australia’s long-standing support for a ‘rules-based’ order” as against its actual breaches of international law and norms:

“Australia, in both foreign policy and many areas of international humanitarian and civil liberties law, is one of Western democracy’s least “rules-based’ societies.”

 Most of the benefits of Australia’s plundering didn’t even accrue to Australia but went to foreign-owned corporations:

“Australia is now marked in history as a pariah state that lacked even sufficient skill to benefit its own citizens with the proceeds of its plunder in the Timor Sea.”

 There has been no effective parliamentary control over maverick foreign policy, which remains emboldened “by government and opposition sharing a common outlook that is contrary to rules-based order” and with decisions made “in the confidence that international law could be ignored.”

 Bernard Collaery is on the mark in his analysis of Australia as pariah state. I can only fault him for his representation of moral decay in foreign policy as a downhill run from what he imagines was a golden age of moral vision and integrity in the days of Labor PM Curtin and Foreign Affairs Minister Evatt, only ending when they were ousted from office in the election of 1949.

In very recent posts on this web site, I outlined Evatt’s callous disregard for Indigenous Australians, Palestinians and other non-white colonised peoples coming into his purview.

Doc Evatt’s role in the partition of Palestine. Part 2

Evatt’s conduct when successfully pushing for the partition of Palestine at the UN was a template for the ongoing deceit, deviousness and amoral dealings of subsequent Australian Foreign Affairs Ministers and bureaucrats.

Evatt spent his final year at the UN in a mammoth effort to secure recognition of Israel and approval of its membership of the United Nations, although UN mediator Count Bernadotte had been assassinated by Jewish terrorists for his plans to enact fairer partition boundaries  and to allow the return of refugees to their properties.

In 1948, while Evatt was President of the UN General Assembly, well-publicised massacres of Palestinian villagers were taking place and the new state was already in breach of UN Resolution requesting the return of Palestinian refugees “wishing to live in peace with their neighbours.”

As well as his blindfold where the rights of Palestinians were concerned, Evatt also supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and did not go along with postwar efforts to reform the labour contract system in PNG as colonial planters flooded back to their plantations from wartime havens.

We never did have a golden age of moral foreign policy, quite the reverse.

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