Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering: The Promotion of Human Rights in International Politics

By M. Anne Brown | Go to book overview

6
The status of Indigenous Australians

THERE ARE A number of avenues through which the ‘place’ of Indigenous people in Australia can be approached. One fundamental arena of struggle has been over land rights. The approach to rights taken here, however, starts from an account of suffering and sets out to trace the political roots of that suffering. One of the clearest forms of suffering to mark Aboriginal lives in Australia is entrenched and widespread ill-health. Thus, across the Indigenous community, the story is one of premature death, often from diseases associated with poverty, poor environmental health and mental distress, a high death rate for infants and small children, and appallingly high rates of suicide, violence and substance abuse.

As will become clear, patterns of ill-health lock into the struggles around land rights. At a concrete level, however, almost all Indigenous Australians, including those who live beyond the immediate scope of land rights, are affected by high levels of disease. Questions of Aboriginal health often have a curious status. The linkage between Aboriginal ill-health and what could be called, rather neutrally, Indigenous disadvantage in Australia is taken for granted – for example, in the use of mortality rates as a standard statistical measure indicative of broader life conditions. However, in this case the causal linkage between specifically political orders and patterns of disease can seem frayed. There are no powerful political forces fighting improvements in health, as there are for progress on land rights. On the contrary, since the 1960s at least, the Australian Government has, as well as other relevant bodies, been expressing increasing concern, investigating and writing reports and budgeting monies in response to Aboriginal ill-health. The challenge then is to make clear the political dimensions of Indigenous ill-health, not just in the past but in contemporary political life – in effect, to clarify the linkage between health and land rights, while recognising their specificities.

Unlike the other case studies, this one examines a situation of persistent systemic infliction of abuse in the context of a wealthy, liberal democratic state

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Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering: The Promotion of Human Rights in International Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • I - The Question of Human Rights 1
  • 1 - Opening Up Conceptions of Rights 3
  • 2 - The Construction of Human Rights- Dominant Approaches 19
  • 3 - The Pursuit of Grounds 56
  • II - Case Studies 90
  • 4 - China – The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 93
  • 5 - East Timor 128
  • 6 - The Status of Indigenous Australians 162
  • 7 - Conclusion 198
  • References 212
  • Index 221
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