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The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community


Letters from Jewish Australia

MAY 2004

  B'NAI B'RITH at the UN Commission on Human Rights

by James Altman

 The education and indoctrination of children to become suicide bombers was highlighted a couple of years ago in a series of B'nai B'rith publications covering the education systems in Palestinian and Syrian schools. As a direct result of groundwork done by B'nai B'rith Australia / New Zealand (BBANZ), this practice has now been condemned by an overwhelming majority at the recent United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

The genesis for this major achievement happened during the course of the recent B'nai B'rith 160th Anniversary celebrations in New Zealand, when one of the Auckland members described the education of children towards "martyrdom" as nothing short of child abuse. She pointed out not only the effects on the children and their families when a child "succeeds" in his/her mission, but the incalculable effects on the society, and on future generations of this so-called "education".

There is a United Nations protocol on Rights of the Child. Could not something be done to bring the nations of the world together to condemn this practice?

Responding to this very persuasive argument, BBANZ President James Altman undertook to see what might be able to be done. Each year, the Commission on Human Rights meets in Geneva, to address human rights issues of concern to the world. We all know that the UN is spectacularly ineffective in a whole range of areas. Would it be worth the effort to try to bring the case to Geneva?

Australia's involvement at the Commission is spearheaded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra. Following discussions with key staff members of DFAT, BBANZ was able to secure the support of the Australian Government for an initiative to amend the Resolution of Rights of the Child generally to condemn the practice of education towards suicide for any political cause or objective.

B'nai B'rith International, which regularly sends a delegation to the Commission on Human Rights, were fully supportive and worked with the representatives of a number of countries to support the case.

Two separate sets of wording were proposed. The first was to follow immediately after an opening statement on 'the child's inherent right to life", declaring that "'the child is never encouraged to end his/her life". Clearly showing their sensitivity to this issue, the Syrians countered by requesting other wording which sought to protect children "in areas of foreign occupation". In an environment where every word of a resolution is examined for its wider implications, a negotiated settlement was reached under which these words were withdrawn at the same time as the references to "foreign occupation".

The good news, however is that there was general agreement that in the Education section of the Resolution, "the practice of non- violence to self and others", the last four words representing a very important addition to the resolution, should remain.

James Altman attended the closing stages of discussions and negotiations in Geneva on behalf of BBANZ. "Everyone to whom I spoke expressed surprise and commendation to us for having achieved as much as this.", said James. "We would of course have liked to done far more, but in the generally hostile environment of the UN, we have had a major success."

The challenge will now be to let as many people as possible know and understand that any State which allows education promoting  "martyrdom" or Shahida is clearly in breach of the UN CHR Resolution on Rights of the Child; this offers at least a start towards protect children from this insidious form of brain-washing. 



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