How the New Zealand Public Have Been Duped: Something to Consider in Election Year the Real Purpose of Inequality

“Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing…a tyranny may grow out of either extreme. Where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissensions.” – Aristotle

It’s been a long time since my last blog post, and now seems like as good a time as any to offer some of my insights into the political situation in the nation at present.

It’s election year, and the politicking has most definitely begun. I have to admit I have been an avid follower of the dramatic developments in the political scene in New Zealand recently.

The Nicky Hager book ‘Dirty Politics’ is threatening to derail the bid of the incumbent government in New Zealand for a third successive term. The revelations and accusations are significant, it seems that adjectives not usually associated with New Zealand politics have become glaringly appropriate. Corruption, Cronyism, Cover-ups; all are rather pertinent at this particular juncture of New Zealand’s political history.

Wellington’s version of Watergate I have heard some people gleefully proclaim!

However, while the country seems to be gripped by this dramatic turn of events, (or turned off by it) there still remains a large question that I have been trying to wrap my head around for a while now. I think I may have found the ability to articulate my answer to this question, and my lengthy response is laid out for you below.

It’s wordy, and it’s not always coherent, but it’s most definitely a question we should be all asking ourselves.

The question is this: How is it that a government like National’s, who like its predecessors in the 1990s, lead New Zealand into a situation of poor economic growth, rising inequality and increased racial and ideological polarity, been able to sustain such massive public support?

If you follow me on social media sites you know that I have been often exasperated at the comments and opinions of many in our ‘democracy’. National has done so much that should preclude it from even being considered for another term, but my horrendous suspicion is that they will be able to sneak home with a win in September, irrespective of the outcome of the inquiries generated by the Nicky Hager book. Here’s why.

The spin doctors obviously have done their job for National. It is plain and obvious now that this government has done nothing for the plight of the ordinary New Zealander. Under National, New Zealand has reached its most unequal income distribution point in history. Accompanied by all the social ills that go with it. Increased violent crime rates (that the police minister has tried to cover up, still being investigated), lowering of educational standards in comparison to other OECD nations, a drop in real wages for the lay worker, a shunning of collective responsibility and community by the population, overall fall in the standards of health for New Zealanders especially from low income backgrounds, and yet National continues to enjoy the Lion’s share of support.

Anyone can see that a country beset by all these ills should look to their government for answers. Increasingly though, New Zealanders have chosen not to. The reason being is that we are being duped, duped by the way the information is presented, yes, politics is all about spinning the truth, but I assert that it goes much deeper than that.

New Zealanders have been duped by the system. The democratic system which has been coupled with a neo-liberal economic system has tainted our normative understanding of economic growth and the way it operates and the conditions it creates, reinforced by those at the top, serves to indenture the working class and makes them grateful for their own enslavement.

It is apparent now that every conventional understanding that we have of what an ideal economic situation/arrangement is, relates to the idea of increased GDP, GNI, export growth, healthy balance sheets, etc. Economic growth is therefore measured in terms of the levels of production our economy can reach. The more we produce, the more the economy grows. As the economy grows, so too do the jobs and that is how every boat is lifted by the rising tide of economic growth. So in essence, economic growth is the key to unlocking a happy and prosperous life.

But unfortunately this promised tide of economic growth has not brought benefits to all in society, it’s served to raise the boats of a few and sunk the vessels of a great deal many others. Economic growth based on neo-liberal ideas are not sustainable for society. Ideal for a cash based economy, but not ideal for a fair, equal, egalitarian in opportunity kind of society. The type that social democracies like New Zealand’s have for a long time striven to create.

Conservatives in every democratic system argue for open competition in an economy and by extension, in a society as the fairest way for us to organise our economic and social systems. It may seem like a straightforward and logical position to take. But this is a false idea of equality that can only truly be achieved under certain conditions.

The first condition for true equality to exist is that every boat needs to be starting the race from the same position. In other words, resources must first be equally distributed and fairly allocated before a fair competition can be had. This is not the situation in New Zealand, the indigenous people of New Zealand were effectively economically enslaved by colonisers whose descendants for over a century have enjoyed favourable economic and social conditions claimed by illegal conquest which have given them an advantage in this social, political and economic contest. Amounting to New Zealand’s own version of white privilege.

Moreover for Pacific people, the preface of their welcome to New Zealand was so that they would occupy the lowest rung on the social ladder, in order to complete the jobs that middle class white New Zealand felt was beneath them. Therefore this community were locked into a cycle of low wages, which means in a cash dominated economic model, amounted to low opportunity. Therefore it becomes easier to see why in this community educational outcomes for decades have been stagnant, also locking people into low wage jobs and underscoring this unequal balance.

Migrants from Asia, why are they not poor? I can sense the conservative vultures circling already . The answer to this misconception is quite simple, it’s because for most of them that came to New Zealand, they did so because the New Zealand government encouraged them to, for being ‘highly skilled migrants’ – It was a category explicitly set up by the New Zealand government under its immigration scheme to attract more value added type of migrants. (They were tired of us dumb islanders jumping through people’s windows at night). Therefore Asian migrants tended to be wealthy and highly educated, endowed with skills that enabled them to better navigate New Zealand’s new economic order.

Why is this important then? How does this amount to duping, and how is it related to the title of this post? I have a point, I promise, just bare with me a little while longer.

The point is this, for the past 6 years National has used the same old tropes to bolster its credentials as the best team to lead our country. They have used some of the following rhetoric:

“New Zealand’s economy is growing at a faster rate than most OECD countries”

“Under National, New Zealand’s debt levels are now under control”

“No special treatment, everyone is being treated the same under National”

Just to name a few.

And the public seem to be lapping it up. They think that New Zealand’s modest economic growth of 1%, that’s right 1% is something to be proud of because other countries are doing badly. In actual fact, New Zealand’s economy hasn’t seen such poor economic growth since the last National government from 1990-99. This is not something to be proud of. And yes I know all about the Global Financial Crisis, let’s just stop using that as an excuse.

Additionally, under National, the New Zealand unemployment rate reached its highest levels since, you guessed it, they were last in power.

We really need to be more attentive to what this actually means for us in election year.

What this does, is that it sets up a false dichotomy in the minds of the public. Because conservatives talk about cutting spending in hard times, and we are immersed, and I mean immersed completely in neo-liberal ideas of economic organisation and growth, the public are more likely to turn on each other. It’s a competition, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. So if you’re unemployed you MUST be siphoning the system by being a welfare bludger.

Nevermind the fact that by creating conditions of economic competition which seeks to cut costs in production, ie introduce more machinery into the production process of manufacturing firms, and focusing on wealth generation you actually are removing jobs from the economy and creating more unemployment, therefore perpetuating the problem yourself. This small fact is of no consequence to a conservative government.

Competition opens up the economy yes,  but unbridled capitalism causes inequality. If left unchecked it leads to social disintegration, the marginalisation of minorities and the exploitation of lower classes. This is why government is needed to intervene, to ensure that the weakest and most vulnerable in our society who are the losers in this competitive environment aren’t left behind, or sunk by the new world order. Unfortunately inequality only serves to increase the popularity of conservative governments.

One of the weaknesses of democracies is how it can be manipulated to suit the needs of a particular group of people who are aware of how it can be shaped into meeting their own desires..

The goal of an elected government in a democracy is not to govern in the best interests of the country, this is a lie that we are taught in school to keep us all in a democratic line! The real goal of an incumbent government is to create conditions that will make it conducive for them to be elected to government again at the end of the electoral cycle. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will seek to improve the lot of all in a country. It will seek to improve the lot of those who are more likely to be able to help them get re-elected. For conservative governments, it’s business interests and wealthy donors.

As a result, a high unemployment rate is of no consequence, increased child poverty is of no real consequence, rising crime rates are of no consequence. Why? because the fear that this creates in the minds of the public feeds directly into the mechanism that supports their popularity. It feeds into people’s natural reaction to protect themselves in times of strife. It’s a given human condition and every politician knows this. Especially those on the right of the political spectrum.

So National have been deliberately ratcheting up the rhetoric, laying blame on those who are apparently ‘too lazy for work’, victimizing those who have been left behind by our system as a whole, and the public who have seen doom and gloom story after story, roll out in front of them relentlessly in the media, end up turning on each other. So when National shows up as a knight in shining armour promising to vanquish all the demons that are hurting our country’s economic growth, the duped public willingly oblige.

By pushing the neo-liberal logic of better businesses equal better jobs, growing GDP, growing National Income etc lifts all boats through the rising tide of economic growth, it makes for attractive politics. The problem is that with rising technological development, as alluded to before, wealth is becoming more concentrated in those who already have the capital to exploit the new conditions being created by e-commerce, outsourcing of labour and industries, and it ends up leaving the middle class with a rather hollow feeling.

It means that real jobs disappear and working class New Zealand comes under greater strain, however the trope of increased economic growth must mean that jobs are out there right? Yes jobs are out there, but meaningful ones are disappearing. So anyone whose not working, and by default who is poor, is so because of their own poor decision making processes. Therefore the government is right to lower taxes, lower social spending to reward those who are working and driving the economy forward.

Sound familiar? It should, this type of flawed logic is what has created the horrific prevalence of downward envy that permeates New Zealand’s society. People who are from middle class, or working class backgrounds are now looking down at the unemployed and the poor as victims of their own lack of diligence. Yet people can’t work if there are no meaningful jobs available that promises them a dignified living. So they fall to the wayside, and those who have secure jobs believe that those who have fallen through the cracks deserve to be there. The National party look at this in glee, and dial up the accompanying rhetoric.

They dial it up by focusing on policies they say will reward the hardworking. They dial it up by saying that it’s unfair for hardworking New Zealanders to have to subsidise the existence of the unemployed and low income earners. People fall in love with this kind of talk. But in actual fact this kind of rhetoric would have more meaning if the policies of lower social spending and greater tax relief for the hardworking actually benefits the working class. It doesn’t.

The joke is on New Zealand. The 10% of New Zealand’s most wealthy are the only ones who are benefiting. Ownership of resources are being concentrated in the rich, and with the disappearance of the manufacturing sector in the country the hollowing out of the middle class is inevitable. Real wages in New Zealand have fallen under National because rising costs of living are actually more than off-setting the miniscule economic growth that is occurring. What we’re seeing is an increase in productivity, but a reduction of the wealth of the middle class due to the shape of the system, meaning that the pie may be getting bigger, but our share is getting smaller. 

Those who are in middle class jobs, unless something spectacular occurs will only ever know this level of wealth without the resource base that the 10% already enjoy. Which means as taxes decrease, the 10% get richer, as social spending gets lower, the social problems like crime, the degrading environment, increased commodity prices affect the middle class and working class so much more. People are struggling day-to-day, and they reject any small suggestion that their tax dollars be spent on helping to raise the boats that have been sunk by the neo-liberal ‘miracle’. They think that their struggle and hardwork must mean that they are morally superior than others.

However most people don’t know that what benefit fraud costs the New Zealand economy (barely anything) is a drop in a bucket compared to the billions of dollars that is being hidden away by New Zealand’s 10% through clever accounting and tax evasion, so not only do they have all the money, they refuse to pay their part of the invoice when it comes to settling the bill at the end of the day.

The struggle is not being felt by the rich, as the middle class and working class have become increasingly squeezed, the belts of the insanely rich have become increasingly loose as they manage to accumulate more of the country’s state assets. like Mighty River Power whose partial sale championed by John Key basically amounted to the transfer of a publicly owned company into the ownership of a narrow wealthy band of New Zealanders. They announced yesterday that profits were up by nearly $100million in one year. Conveniently the year it was sold.

Middle and working class New Zealand not only are enslaved labourers, they are also forced to fill the coffers of the 10% with their patronage, purchasing essential services such as electricity from companies that were once publicly owned but are now controlled by powerful oligarchs.

The trick is though, by reinforcing the fact that New Zealand’s economy is still growing, our own instincts that have been indoctrinated by an education system that places the credence of these economic markers ahead of public well being is spelling the death of New Zealand’s egalitarian tradition.

The working class have become enslaved to the 10%, and they don’t even know it.

Come September, watch as the duped and disenfranchised choose to validate their own enslavement by supporting a government who has manipulated the people so much so, that they see nothing wrong with reinforcing their own economic bondage.

The problem is, people can’t see past their own shoelaces, let alone the fact that they are being chained to a dead ideal of equality to see that change is most definitely needed at the apex of our society.

A Tribute to the ANZACs from a Grateful Expat

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

April 25th 1915 will forever be a date entrenched in every New Zealander’s heart and mind. It was the day that New Zealand came of age. The disaster that Gallipoli became for both New Zealand and Australia was the catalyst that forged the unshakable bonds of friendship and duty that characterizes the transtasman relationship today. ANZAC day brought home the reality to both our countries, that King and empire courted us in her time of need, however the indifference that went into the planning of the Gallipoli landing drove home the message that we were on our own. It was time for our country to carve her own path into modernity, alone, without mother England at the helm,

War and its horrors is something that every country in the world is familiar with. History is littered with appalling stories of genocide, famine as a result, heinous war crimes that go unpunished, inhumane treatment of fellow human beings. Korea, my adopted home for over half a decade understands first hand the harrowing consequences of battles fought over conflicting ideology. It was on this peninsula that the Cold War became unmistakably hot in 1950, and millions of troops and civilians lost their lives in the 3 year fratricidal struggle. Australia and New Zealand were part of the International effort that was led by the United States under the UN banner which sent troops to this Peninsula, to once again fight another man’s war and come to grief on another man’s land.

Living abroad has brought home to me the magnitude that all of Australia and New Zealand’s service men and women through the years have had to make. New Zealand in particular is a proud little nation of peace promoters. We are renowned for our easy going kind of attitude, our tolerance of difference, but most importantly our disposition to ‘mind our own business’. ANZAC troops volunteered to fight for and die for the liberty and freedom of people they never knew. In lands they never worked, in ideological struggles they never understood.

It is true that other countries send troops to help allies during a war. And a lot of American soldiers died in Europe and Africa and nearly every continent in the world. I do not wish to diminish their sacrifice. Dying for one’s nation is the ultimate sacrifice, that we all must honour. And the US has their memorial days as well. However I will unashamedly say now that I believe Kiwis are unique. Our country has never started a war with another, we have never entered a war for conquest, strategic dominance, hegemonic authority, oil. But we believe in always helping a friend in need, in doing what’s right. So if a Kiwi thinks that someone has been hard done by, it’s in the New Zealand psyche to stand up for that person. This is the real New Zealand spirit, and I really hope that modern New Zealand rediscovers the true sense of charity and sacrifice that I was always led to believe set us apart from the rest of the world. Our Politicians in particular could do with a refresher course on what it means to be a New Zealander.

I pay tribute to the ANZACs a lot more here in Korea than when I lived in New Zealand, and as I mentioned before this is because I really feel the magnitude of their sacrifice more here. When you move half way around the world, to a country where you can’t speak the language, know very few people, without any family members it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The frantic life over here, the inescapable congestion can make you feel very far from the calm streets of suburban Auckland.

But then I stop and think, what it must have been like for all those service men and women. Especially the ANZACs, volunteer troops, leaving the surroundings of lush farmland and native forests, golden sandy beaches, beautiful lakes, community centred towns of burgeoning prosperity. Leaving behind all friends and Kin, to fight in a war that was made by egotistical men, without the sense to foresee the horrific consequences of their chess like game of inter state rivalry.

I think about what it must have been like for our service men and women who served in the first world war. Notwithstanding the fact that we are as far removed from the rest of the world you can get without possibly falling off of the face of it, to be suddenly thrust into the throes of world stage conflict. And knowing that many of them may not return. And in the end, far too many never did. I think I can process that emotional state a little better now living so far away from home.

If you’ve never lived away from New Zealand you never really learn to appreciate how special it is to come from our little corner of the world. You leave New Zealand, but you never really leave New Zealand. Every kiwi will always leave their heart at home. And knowing that I will return one day isn’t enough to stave off the occasional bout of yearning to return. And then I think about the ANZACs, and the thousands upon thousands who never got to return to New Zealand, and my heart breaks for them and their families. And I learn to appreciate them so much more. Knowing that their sacrifice is something that I will never ever come close to ever matching in my lifetime.

My tribute to the ANZACs will be to always strive to use my hard fought liberty to live my life to the fullest. The greatest tribute I can offer to those who fought for my freedom is to never take it for granted. Through their sacrifices, and the sacrifices made by millions of other allied soldiers from around the world, we enjoy the opportunity to pursue our lives in relative peace. Prosperity is possible because of these people. Don’t waste the opportunity, be mindful of who came before, but most of all honour them every day in striving to build your dream, in helping to preserve rights for others and most importantly in living life to the fullest.

Lest We Forget.

Image

Photo of the New Zealand War Memorial in Korea unveiled in 2005

*NB in WW1 New Zealand contributed 103,000 troops to the war effort, it represented over 10% of the entire population, one of the highest per capita contributions of any country involved in the war.

Sheep of Coconuts? Pacific People Being Courted by a Wolf in Blue

It’s election year and just as soon as Prime Minister John Key announced the date New Zealand will go to the polls. the politicking has inadvertently begun. I’m a little indifferent to what is happening in the New Zealand media at the moment. Political polls has National (the incumbents) quite a distance ahead of Labour and it seems very likely that we will be forced to endure another 3 year term of a deep blue National led government. To be completely honest though, I’ve observed a clear bias in reporting at the moment by the New Zealand media. It seems the majority of commentators are prepared to spell the doom and gloom of the left wing bloc some 5 months out from the election. But if there’s anything that we can take from the 2011 election, aside from the complete indifference of nearly a million eligible voters; is the fact that the media often has it horribly wrong. Just ask WInston Peters and the slew of MPs he brought into the house against all expectations in 2011.

It is to this end that I wish to place this blog entry. Recently it has emerged that a certain group of Pacific conservatives have officially jumped ship to National. It is widely known that the Pacific community has long been a stronghold of Labour and in 2005 helped to deliver Labour from the depths of potential defeat in the major electoral seats of the 3 Ms in South Auckland. Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa.

In a TV3 news article the reporter (Tova O’Brien) claimed that:

“Labour’s election stronghold of Pacific Island voters in south Auckland is under attack – and worse still, the enemy is coming from within.

An influential group have shifted their allegiance to the right and are now campaigning for National.”

Cue raised eyebrow. The reporter goes on to quote this influential group who is apparently represented by a person I have never heard of before in my life.

Reverend Daniel Purcell-Lokeni’s family have ticked red in Mangere for more than three decades. He’s now a National Party member, citing Labour’s role in decriminalising prostitution, the anti-smacking law and same-sex marriage as reasons for his swing.”

 

The plot somehow thickens, or to use a Samoan reference, the koko has become fefeke!! 

It seems that indeed the left-bloc is under threat in its own heartland! Shock Horror!

But then the article becomes laughable. A quote from another community leader / Labour mutineer:

Chief Setu Mu’a was once a Labour activist, but he now campaigns for National in Manukau East. “The people that I lead, they will follow the leader, as the song goes,” he says”

Here’s where this article has gone pear shaped. This snippet has committed the ultimate sin in research. It has drawn grand conclusions from the narrowest of sample sizes. Unfortunately this type of flawed reporting is not uncommon for New Zealand. In a country with such a stable political landscape it can be hard for reporters to find something that relates to politics that whets the public’s appetite for drama. Often gossip and innuendo are the order of the day. But this is dishonest, it is irresponsible reporting and it characterizes an entire community as a bunch of sheep. Basically we’re a herd of coconuts capable of being sheepishly groomed for a political outcome by its religious and community leaders.

Don’t assume things, like the ubiquitously quoted phrase goes, Assuming things makes an ass out of you and me. In this case it’s made an ass out of my community.

Let me quickly debunk some of the grossly exaggerated claims made by this article.

1st: The Pacific community is extremely diverse. There are many different ethnic groups that exist within the term Pasifika. We share common ancestral links, but we still maintain individual identity. When it comes to matters of cultural heritage, there are conservatives within each block, however the degree to which these individual ethnic groups are predisposed to being influenced by conservative thinking depends largely on the extent at which the group has experienced integration to New Zealand society. For example, the Samoan community is much larger than the other communities, they also have a longer history of being in New Zealand and means that there is greater chance for divergence from conservative views due to the process of assimilation. Making a generalization like this is dangerous.

2nd. Large sections of the Pacific community actually support ideas of marriage equality. This is evidenced by the increasing number of LGBTQ Pasifika groups and community service providers that offer support to marginalised sexual minorities. Their work maybe at trying to change stereotypes within the community, but what is important here is that most of these groups are founded by or are delivered by people from Pasifika backgrounds. Why is this important then? Because it shows that there is diversity of opinion and a changing mindset within the community itself. This may not translate straight away to support, but this does mean the community is shifting its focus. What about legalisation of prostitution? Well there is a large portion of sex workers in New Zealand that identify themselves as Pasifika in ethnic identity.

3rd. Pasifika LGBTQ youth are among the loudest and most prominent communities within the sexual minority itself. At the recent Pride Festival in Auckland the winning float was in fact designed and put together by the Pasifika LGBTQ youth. The Pasifika LGBTQ youth have organised successful events in the community that raises awareness of their issues and presence. Moreover, Polynesian cultures already accept notions of the 3rd gender, in Samoan it is known as fa’afafeine, in Tongan Fakaleiti and so on in other cultures. Again this does not translate directly to support but it does translate to awareness and presence. This is vital for understanding why conservatives don’t necessarily have the hold over the Pacific vote as has been argued in the 3 news article and by the ‘community leaders’ themselves.

4th The Pacific demographic is the most youthful of all populations. Why is this important? Because all the academic research shows that the demographic most pre-disposed to support Marriage Equality, and also most likely to support progressive notions of legislation is the younger generation. So before you go on about how we all listen to our parents, all good island kids do, just remember how we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates of all the demographics in New Zealand. Any Samoan or Pacific Island parent in New Zealand can attest to the difficulty there is in getting your children to do what you want to do. And guess what? All of the Pacific youth are beginning to come of age and more and more of us are becoming eligible to vote.

5th. The 3 news article assumes that we only vote on social conscience issues. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Pacific peoples who sit at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, a large proportion of our community are more concerned about survival, providing adequate food and clothing for our children, ensuring we can find support for adequate housing. Of all the communities that have been hit hardest by National’s war on beneficiaries and its lack of action on child poverty, ours have borne the disproportionate brunt of inequality. It would be foolish to think that a large chunk of Pacific people would simply jump ship and support a government that has done so little to advance the cause of our society’s most vulnerable.

6th The significance of Religion within the community is falling. In line with international trends, the significance of religion is beginning to decline. Although census results still places Pacific Islanders at large as Christian in their affiliation, the significance of our religious alliances on our political choices is sharply declining. This is an intuitive claim, I suspect that if more research was done in to the outward conformity of Pacific youth, as opposed to the internalized expression in their decision making processes, there would be a completely different picture being painted. I myself identify as a Christian, but I would be a fool to let my religious conviction, (as flimsy as it maybe) to dictate the running of a secular government.

I could go on and on and on. But the point is this. We are not coconut sheep, we cannot be placed all in one category, and the truth is it is obvious that a divide is beginning to emerge between the youth and the so called ‘community leaders’. Respect of our elders is paramount in our culture, but another complicating factor is that Pacific culture is often boxed as an internal community structure, therefore in the running of New Zealand society, a completely different parameter of decision making processes take over.

National may try to woo the Pacific voter, but if it thinks it’s going to succeed then it needs to do more than just play to socially internalized false prejudices to sway the sea of Red that exists in my neighbourhood.

I guess I shouldn’t be too concerned then. After all Ms Obrien in her article concludes with the telling statement:

“These are just the views of three community leaders in south Auckland, they say more and more are coming to their view.”

For every 3 ‘community leaders’ you can pledge ma’am, I’ll see your bet and raise you double. Because at an election, everyone’s vote counts as a single entity. Doesn’t matter if you’re a chief, priest, rabbi, homosexual, or even Pacific Islander. We all have one vote. And mine as well as theirs carry the same value.

Link to the 3News Article:

http://www.3news.co.nz/Labour-may-lose-south-Auckland-stronghold/tabid/1607/articleID/338643/Default.aspx

 

State Complicity in the Violation of the Human Rights of Sexual Minorities in South Korea

Hey guys, so a while back I posted on my FB about one of the papers I had to write for my Human Rights class last semester. The task were we given was to choose one of the ‘6 most serious Human Rights violations’ and show how a selected country or state was violating this particular right.

As usual I wanted to be different, as I knew that there would be many students that would choose the more well known state ‘violators’ ie China, Myanmar etc and commonly known breaches of human rights that are often well publicized in the media.

I tend to find that people think that the more ‘enlightened societies’ are less likely to violate the Human Rights of their citizens. However, this is usually furthest from the truth. Some of the biggest violators of human rights are those countries that are closest to home. ie Australia and its indigenous people. last week I blogged about Human Rights abuses in Samoa and the list goes on. However I chose to look at my adopted country South Korea and also selected a group in South Korea that often does not get enough exposure. The LGBT community or sexual minorities.

In Korea a lot of work has been done to document Human Rights violations in terms of freedom of choice and expression for the majority of the Korean population. It is easy to find work that has been done around the Human Rights violations in South Korea during the struggle for democracy. But with the onset of democratization and modernization processes respectively, room is starting to develop that is allowing for the discussion around the rights of minority groups that were often previously ignored.

From my research into the area of sexual minorities in Korea I have been astounded at the deliberate violation of human rights that are allowed to go on by the South Korean state. Instead of rehashing some of the things I found, I decided just to publish my paper here on this blog so people who are interested can have a look.

It’s not a lengthy paper as we were only allowed 3,000 words, although I did go over by quite a bit lol but I hope this can be of use to others and contribute to the discussion about Human Rights in Korea. Apologies all my footnotes disappeared as I transferred this from its Word file to the blog, although my bibliography survives at the end of the paper.

State Complicity in the Violation of Human Rights of Sexual Minorities in South Korea – by Patrick Thomsen, Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University, December 2013

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” If human rights are to be universal, we must accept them first as intrinsic to who we are as people, as part of humanity. Therefore every article in the declaration of human rights must be viewed as contingent and dependant on each other. It is in this spirit that I wish to examine the violations of human rights that go on everyday in the Republic of Korea. Although the task placed before us was to select one of the six serious violations of human rights and demonstrate how they are violated within a given setting, I have chosen to examine five of these pre-selected rights and will attempt to show how one piece of failed legislation allows for the violation of these rights for one group in particular: sexual minorities.

Amnesty international defines discrimination as ‘an assault on the very notion of human rights. Discrimination is the systematic denial of certain peoples’ or groups’ full human rights because of who they are or what they believe. It is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them as “less than human”. The failure of the anti-discrimination bill, which stalled in the National Assembly earlier this year, was a major setback in the preservation of human rights in Korea. The fact that a religious wing hijacked it represents a major challenge for institutional support to enable the protection of human rights for the minorities it was designed to protect. Additionally. In this paper I intend to show how its death in the halls of government denotes both an institutional and a complicit failure of lawmakers to protect the rights of sexual minorities in Korea. I will use this failed legislation to illustrate how articles three “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, article four “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”, article 5 “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, Article 18 “Everyone has the Right to Freedom of thought and Religion” and Article 19 “Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression” are routinely violated. I argue the failure of this legislation is a serious breach of human rights, and through its complicity the state itself has become the violator.

The Failure of the Anti-Discrimination Law


In February of 2013 two Democratic United Party members, Kim Han Gil and Choi Won Shik, introduced draft legislation into the National Assembly of Korea. This bill proposed to ban employers from discriminating against people based on religion, political ideology, educational background and sexual orientation. This type of legislation is very common in nearly every modern democratic society, however in Korea this proposed piece of legislation was withdrawn again in April 2013. Religious conservatives were particularly vocal against this legislation and went as far as to accuse both Kim and Choi of being closet homosexuals and North Korean sympathizers . Some critics of the legislation say that the reason that it failed was because the bill overreached in its aims. The proposed bill sought to ban discrimination in ‘employment and other social treatments’ of people in about twenty categories, including region of birth, skin colour, schooling, age, thoughts, medical history, religion, sexual orientation, appearance and marriage. The proposed law would have allowed alleged victims to seek compensation for damages that could be claimed up to 30 million won . This was a very important part of the legislation and I argue that the wide coverage of the bill if it had passed would have represented a commitment to the human rights of all in South Korea. Instead, its alarmingly easy defeat represented a complicity in the National Assembly to allow Human Rights violations to continue in South Korea. Although the state may not have ordered the violations that I will outline in this paper, the fact that the state refuses to recognise its role in the perpetuation of violations means that it has taken on the role of violator. By not taking a strong stand against discrimination; the lawmakers of South Korea have given the ammunition to individual agents to pull the trigger on the violation of human rights in this country.

Article 3 – Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person

The simplest of human rights, the ability to feel safe, protected and freedom is routinely denied to minority groups in South Korea. For sexual minorities in particular the issue of security of person is most disconcerting. The definition of ‘security of person’ it can be said is related to ‘the right to life’. In its purest form ‘the right to life’ enshrined in article 3 according to the United Nation itself is described as: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” In Korea there have been instances of homosexuals being assaulted in the street leaving ‘gay bars’ and hate crimes tend to go under reported.

But in a wider context the security of person needs to be applied to the local setting in a social sense. In Korea I argue that the right to security of person needs to pertain to the ability of an individual to provide the basics for them to live a dignified life. This means it should be extended to the liberty of ones ability to provide a secure source of income and autonomous lifestyle. However in Korea discrimination in the workplace means that sexual minorities are prevented from coming out, as it would compromise their employment security. This is directly related to the lack of institutional protection that is offered by the government.

In a qualitative study in 2010, the Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea organization outlined some of the challenges faced by sexual minorities in the workplace in Korea. All respondents in the study shared their worries that if they made their sexual orientations known at work they would be badly disadvantaged. Ms. L, a lesbian in her early 30s, said, “I just don’t know whether I would receive threats or be asked to leave the company, so I’ve never even thought about coming out.” The unmarried are discriminated against in promotions. The company may not officially ask about spouses, but without one it isn’t easy to increase one’s pay check. One gay man said, “I’ve completely given up on being promoted, so until I retire I’ll have to satisfy myself with being a department head.” Lega (a pseudonym), an activist with the Democratic Party’s committee on sexual minorities, said, “at work we have been fired for our sexual identities and always subject to the fear of being outed, but we receive no protection from the law.”

It is clear that this basic human entitlement of the right to life, liberty and security of person in a local setting is being violated in Korean society. And unfortunately the failure of the anti-discrimination law only implicated Korean lawmakers in the violation of this right. The government of South Korea is ultimately responsible here for allowing such discrimination to continue to permeate the workplace.

Article 4 – No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Again the term servitude and slavery must be applied to the local setting. And unfortunately for us today, slavery has taken a modern form too. Slavery now takes the form of people trafficking and servitude is represented by slave labour and discriminatory labour practices. The concept of people trafficking is morbid to say the least, as it involves the trade of people often for use in the sex industry of another country. So how does this pertain to Korea? Conditions that have been created which discriminate against sexual minorities have a two fold effect. The first is that it forces those who can not find legitimate work into taking lower end jobs, the second is that it makes them more likely to be victims of sex trafficking. At present the statistics are rather sketchy, but a growing amount of evidence is showing that sexual minorities aside from women are more at risk of sex trafficking or being traded for their bodies.

In 2009 the police in Seoul arrested a group of sex traffickers who recruited Korean men and transgender and illegally transported them to Japan to work in the sex industry there. This situation is usually symptomatic of a much wider problem. The fact that these traffickers were caught often means that there are more that have not been identified. In 2007 Grand National Party lawmaker Park Jae-wan claimed that there were estimated 40,000-60,000 Koreans illegally residing in Japan. Of these, 30,000 are believed to be working in the sex trade. An increasing number of Japanese recruitment websites for sex work were searching for Korean men. This is a problem that has been created by a system that allows persecution of sexual minorities. If sexual minorities were not forced into looking to alternative means for their own self determination by a society that shunned them, we would not see a situation where they are forced to turn to such work, This is not a choice, but a condition given by the system.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Moreover the lack of protection afforded to sexual minorities perpetuates degrading treatment and cruel punishments throughout Korean society. Homosexuals have been officially labelled in state papers as ‘abnormal’ in the past. The most recent example was when the Korean Ministry of Education earlier this year decided to remove all references to homosexuality being ‘normal’ behaviour in its textbooks. Instead it included labelling homosexuality a ‘mental disorder, equating it with aids, and claiming that homosexuality is not medically normal. This shockingly inaccurate stance on homosexuality further perpetuates discrimination and behaviour among Korean citizens and organizations which will continue to marginalize this already much maligned group.

Furthermore, South Korean soldiers in the military have been subjected to extremely degrading treatment on the basis of their sexuality. There have been many documented instances of bullying and abuse that has gone on within the military. According to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, an unnamed soldier suffered from gossip and rumours after he confessed his sexual orientation in the army training centre; his sexual orientation was revealed against his will. When he told the army surgeon that he wanted to be discharged, he was told to submit a video containing his sexual relationship. Refusing the offer, he was bullied constantly.

The lack of institutional protection and in the case of the textbooks teaching that homosexuality is both abnormal and a mental illness flies in the face of scientific evidence. It is both inaccurate and an actual direct violation of the human rights of individuals. In fact the situation for sexual minorities in schools is that many students feel they are in an unsafe environment. A study has found that half of sexual-minority students in high schools feel that they are discriminated against at school because of their sexual identities. Regarding the types of harassment the sexual-minority teenagers experience at school, 61.5%, said “degrading language and bias from students for being a sexual minority”, while another 39.8%, said “degrading language and bias from teachers for being a sexual minority”. 29.4%, of the students said they had been “outed” at school against their wishes. 5.4%, of the students reported being harassed or groped against their will. This is concerning as there is now an institutional support for bullying in the textbooks that are being taught in Korean schools. The state or a state institution such as the Ministry of Education should not endorse this sort of behaviour. The role of information and the way it is distributed and its ability in shaping behaviours is well documented. The failure of the Korean lawmakers to instigate the anti-discrimination law is once again a representation of state complicity. The impact of its failure here should not be underestimated.

Another institutional failure took place in 2011. This is when the Education Committee of the Seoul Metropolitan Council announced that it would be withdrawing a statement in the Seoul Students Rights Ordinance that included sexual orientation as a right to non-discrimination. The original draft contained four clauses that specifically protected sexual minority youths. However after the draft was released the religious conservatives went to work and lobbied hard to have the clauses removed. Once again this basic right was denied to sexual minorities based on the power of the religious right. This was a massive failure on two fronts. The first is that it failed to protect the minority youth. The second was that it continued to perpetuate stereotypes of sexual minorities as second-class citizens, engendering a lower status for some groups of youths in Korea. The connection between the messages sent out in official legislation and policies, with the decreasing perceived security of sexual minority youth in Korea cannot be missed here.

If an anti-discrimination law were put into place there would be very little chance for such practices to be endorsed, and there would be a real avenue of retribution. Many South Koreans are now seeking asylum abroad due to the basis of their sexuality and discrimination that takes place here and in the military. Last April, “Kim In-su,” a 34-year-old gay man who also refused to enlist (in the military), had asylum status granted in Australia. Recently, some transgender individuals have also had refugee status granted. Fleeing persecution in one’s own country is the ultimate failure of the state’s responsibility to create a free and open society. The increasing trend of South Korean nationals seeking asylum abroad represents a red flag in the protection of the human rights of sexual minorities in Korea.

Article 18: Everyone has the Right to Freedom of thought and Religion

Article 18 is explained by the United Nations as: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” . Most people read this article as an exclusive right to preserve one’s religious convictions. However, this right also indentures people of religious conviction to not discriminate against those who do not share their religious beliefs. In the past religious groups have been discriminated against, however today in South Korea the religious groups have been busy discriminating against the rights of sexual minorities. The major opposition to the anti-discrimination bill in Korea came from the religious right. When the 2013 bill was introduced on the basis of recommendations from the Human Rights Council in Korea, the conservative right and Christian groups threatened that the law could be used to support gay marriage. The use of scaremongering tactics to block the passages of the bill has been further allowed by the refusal of lawmakers in challenging the conservative right. The South Korean Presbyterian Church was particularly vocal in its opposition of the law, coming out to make a strong statement about how it would impede their sermons and create unnecessary tension in society.

The issue for sexual minorities is that another group in society is deliberately infringing their freedom of thought. This is a rational explanation. By contrast, it can not be argued by the religious right that the existence of sexual minorities impedes on their ability to practice their religion. This is an irrational argument. The existence of diversity does not serve to limit their freedoms. In this case the state has a duty and obligation to protect the freedoms of sexual minorities to simply exist as equal citizens. There are so many barriers at the moment for sexual minorities to even be allowed to participate as normal citizens. Yet the government is allowing a religious group to restrict the rights of other members of society to keep their own counsel. This is a gross violation of human rights. All made possible by the lack of institutional protection offered to sexual minorities.

Article 19: The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” the right to freedom of expression is often treated as a given condition. It could be argued that the fact that sexual minorities have the ability to pursue their own policy agenda means that there is no limitation to freedom of speech. However in Korea this has been recently tested in relation to the National Security Law (NSL). According to Amnesty International South Korea has seen a dramatic increase in the abuse of national security laws in a politically motivated attempt to silence debate. Apparently there has been a near two fold increase in the number of prosecutions brought before the judiciary in relation to this law since 2008. This development is an attempt to narrow the space for public debate, which seriously undermines freedom of expression and freedom of association in the country.

For sexual minorities, although the NSL has not been used as of yet to silence debate, the spirit in which the government invokes this legislation is a clear informant in its behaviour in other legislative frameworks used to muzzle the promotion of the rights of sexual minorities in Korea. A very high profile case has been that of the Mapo Rainbow Resident’s Solidatiry (MRRS) and their application to the Mapo-gu district office to hang a banner to advocate sexual minority’s rights in the community last year. The organization that was founded in 2011 as a voluntary group that aims to help change the public perception toward alternative lifestyles. The banner that the MRRS proposed on hanging would have displayed in Korean the phrases “One in ten passer bys is a sexual minority” and “Here, we are residents of Mapo-gu”. However, the Mapo-gu office rejected the permit on the condition of changing the phrases as they purported that it was ‘indecent and detrimental to youth’ .

The banner was rejected on the basis of the invocation of the ‘Outdoor Advertising Law’, which indicates the articles in the signage constituted ‘obscene materials’ . Nothing of what the MRRS proposed to display was inaccurate, neither was it obscene by any definition of the term. This official use of legislation to limit freedom of speech represents a major infringement of the human rights of the members of the MRRS group. They have had their right to express their identity denied them, it also prevents the type of support that could be given to sexual minorities of whom are still not comfortable to identify themselves in public reaching those who need it the most. This is a significant disservice to not only sexual minorities but also to freedom of speech in Korea. However with the absence of an anti-discrimination law, there is not much that these minorities can turn to by way of protection. Therefore the failure of this legislation has much wider consequences.

Conclusion

Human rights is a concept that is constantly evolving, and the protection of sexual minorities is currently a vogue topic of discussion in political circles around the world. The realization of rights of minorities in general is something that large numbers of legislative bodies have recently moved to enshrine and protect. However, in the Republic of Korea the failure of the anti-discrimination bill to pass into legislation represents the biggest challenge to the realization of Human Rights in Korea. I do not classify it as simply a challenge, I classify it as a complicit violation of human rights by the South Korean legislative National Assembly. The core functions of governments can be boiled down to one simple goal. It is meant to function for the betterment of the lives of its citizens. For all its citizens, and in order to do this it needs to be able to provide protections for the most marginalized and maligned in society.

All of the rights that are continually violated are interrelated. I argue that we cannot focus on one without looking at the effect on the others. In Korea the fact that one piece of legislation does not exist has a profound effect on how these five rights are violated. The violation of freedom of speech for sexual minorities means that they are not able to fulfil their own individual autonomy. They are then forced to hide their sexuality or face the consequences of a social death, which would include dismissal from their job and therefore impact on their ability to live. The fact that discrimination is allowed to exist means that sexual minorities are more at risk of suffering from sex trafficking and underemployment than other portions of the population. The power of the religious conservatives to dictate policy directly impacts on freedom of thought and freedom of religion for sexual minorities in Korea.

Additionally, a government’s function is to govern and not be governed by the court of public opinion. The fact that the National Assembly allows the powerful conservative lobby to block such an important piece of legislation no longer just complicity, but an active decision to allow discrimination to run rife throughout society. Human rights violations in the Republic of Korea stem from a lack of institutional support for minority groups and represent the greed and hunger for power of the political elite. It is on this basis that the central argument of this paper is based. Without state protection, and a deliberate rejection of the rights of a minority group, the Korean government have become the primary violator of the human rights of sexual minorities in Korea.

Bibliography

Amnesty International “The Politically Motivated Onslaught on Free Speech” Press Release November 29 2012

Bong, Yongshik, “The Gay Rights Movement in Democratizing Korea” Journal of Korean Studies Vol 32 pp 86-103, 2008

Borowiec, Steven “South Korea Military Mulls Future” The Diplomat, 23 December 2011

Ghosh, Palash “South Korea: A Thriving Sex Industry In A Powerful, Wealthy Super-State” International Business Times, April 29, 2013

Grace Poor “Korea: LGBT Students in Danger of Being Left Out Of Non-Discrimination Protections” The New Civil Rights Movement, March 2011

Haken, Jeremy “Transnational Crime In The Developing World”, Global Financial Integrity. 25 June 2011.
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada “Korea Republic of: Treatment of homosexuals, including legislation, availability of state protection and support services” 30 November 2009

Jang Joo-Young and Kim Min Ji “Gay Sex Worker Traffickers Arrested” Joongang Daily 10 March 2009

Jeong, Eunju “Banner Advocating Sexual Minority’s Prohibited” Human Rights Monitor South Korea 7 March 2013

Johnte Hee Soo, “Can Korea ever Accept Homosexuals” The Korea Herald, 18 June 2012

Kim, Sodam “Seemingly Endless Discrimination Against Gay Soldiers in Korea” Human Rights Monitor South Korea December 26 2011

Kim Tae Hyung “한국 남성, 일본 호스드바 취업급” Newsis 2007

Kim, Young Jin “Sex Trafficking Victims Fight Social Stigma” The Korea Times October 28, 2013
Lee, JH “Human Trafficking in East Asia: Current Trends, Data Collection and Knowledge Gaps” Blackwell Publishing, International Migration Vol. 43 165-201

Lee John “Why South Korea’s Anti-Discrimination Bill had to be Killed” June 3 2013

Lee Yoo Eun “South Korean Anti-Discrimination Law Faces Conservative Push Back” Global Voices 13 April 2013

Park, Hyun Jung “Special Report: Fleeing Discrimination at home, South Koreans Seek Asylum Abroad” Hankyoreh 7 November 2013

Park, Sujin “학생들 절반이상 “차별 경험” 왕따 방지 프로그램도 필요” Hankyoreh News 6 December 2012

Payne, David “Textbook dampens gay rights in Korea” The Korea Observer October 22 2013

The Advocate Editors “Korea Upholds Antigay Military Law” The Advocate online 31 March 2011

Yang, Junghoon “Homosexuals and the Contemporary Gay Rights Movement in Korea: Movement Participation and Collective Identity” School of Global Studies University of Gothenberg May 23 2013

http://www.claiminghumanrights.org

http://www.amnesty.org

The Other Side of Tradition

In a little over a month I will be touching down in the motherland for the first time in over 3 years. I am so excited I can barely contain my joy at the prospect of spending time with my family, walking the streets of Apia, going to the beach and generally just being a Samoan kid again. Samoa is my home in my heart, as much as New Zealand is home to me, and to a certain extent Korea has become a surrogate home to me too.

As a Samoan child growing up in South Auckland, being Samoan was always a great source of pride and nostalgia. We are taught from a young age to respect the ‘fa’asamoa’ or the Samoan way. To make sure that we preserve our countries traditions and cultural customs. This sense of duty to our culture has manifested itself in the forms of various Samoan community organizations in New Zealand such as church congregations. Samoan associations within different public institutions such as schools, universities and even within public offices such as public ministries. Many point to this as a great success of Samoa’s diaspora community in New Zealand in managing to preserve its identity. All of which I agree with wholeheartedly. Our people are a presence in New Zealand that adds flavour and diversity to an exciting nation of people.

But recently as I’ve come to think of Samoan culture and culture in general I’ve come to question a lot of the motives of those that are in power in Samoa, and within Samoan communities in New Zealand as well. I know that this is something that is not unique to Samoa, which is why I’m really looking forward to researching this phenomena more after graduation in the Northern Hemisphere Summer, but culture is no longer just a subject that should be examined from an anthropological perspective. Especially in the case of the South Pacific. Culture now needs to be examined with a much more scrupulous political science lens for a number of reasons. To me not enough work has been done in the field that relates specifically to South Pacific cultures. And by my own bias, not enough has been done to place Samoan cultural traditions within the field of Political Science and IR in particular. As a Political Science major in my undergraduate degree and now as an International Relations major in my Masters degree, I will forewarn you. My position in this post is focused particularly from those perspectives. As a disclaimer I am not criticizing anything to do with the beauty that is our Samoan culture, but I wish to highlight an aspect of culture that to me is being misappropriated by our political elite.

In the past scholars who have examined the South Pacific in the political science field have generated a kind of discourse about the region as being primitive, and somewhat backward. The political instability, cronyism, the lack of transparency of certain governments have led to a somewhat eschewed picture of the political system of the region. Even worse, I would argue that the other side of this development is that any research that is conducted that tries to critically examine the political structure of our indigenous cultures, if even the slightest bit critical, is often dismissed by locals as being neocolonialist. And with good reason too. Just look at the less than ‘thorough’ work done by Margaret Mead in her infamous “Coming of Age in Samoa” which western scholars still refuse to accept was based on flawed methodology and by default had less than solid conclusions. However it still gave birth to a whole new group of scholars in Anthropology who attested to her work as a quasi-bible to the field. This sort of cultural misrepresentation has meant people of the South Pacific tend to reject or are very skeptical to any work done by outside scholars that attempts to map our region in any form or social science discipline such as Political Science or IR.

But this is problematic now because I believe that modernization has allowed for the maturation of particular ideas and processes within indigenous communities such as our own in Samoa, but the use of this knowledge is being hoarded by the elites. What I’m alluding to is the fact that palagi concepts and notions of political power, ways in which to exert influence and control over people are not just palagi concepts anymore. They are concepts that belong to everyone, including indigenous cultures such as Samoan culture, and its very existence is being exploited by the political elite in Samoa to subjugate our people. This is what I call the other side of tradition.

It seems rather intuitive when you think about it. Samoa’s hierarchical traditional political structure allows for a dominant chief to centralize control. And for many centuries our politics of consensus meant that our system was always conducive to this idea of a central figure being the leader of the nu’u and even the islands as a whole. But what’s different now is that certain leaders in Samoa have combined the traditional loyalty that a matai or chief commands over his or her village with palagi concepts of democracy and democratic institutions. This has led to the situation where Samoa is now an illiberal democracy.

What does this mean in lay man’s terms? Well think about it. Samoa at annexation in 1899 was actually on the brink of civil war. Chiefs fought for their authority, the passing down of Matai titles didn’t necessarily go down smoothly. The four aristocratic titles which had only ever been united in one person according to our oral history occurred just three times. The rest of the time life between the different camps meant that Samoa was constantly at war with itself. Now this is very important because the result of when Germany took control and followed by New Zealand’s bungled administration of Samoa,was that we stopped fighting each other and began fighting a common enemy. Imperialism.

When independence came around in 1962, Samoa was careful to try and meld together Samoa’s traditional form of governance which really boiled down to a central chief being in control of the affairs of his nu’u and aiga, with western ideas and the newly developing international norm of universal suffrage, and democratic participation, Samoa’s administrators at the time had to do enough to appease the United Nations concerns and New Zealand’s concerns as well that all of Samoa’s citizens would be given fair treatment and access to justice under the new Western Samoan constitution. Samoa did enough to satisfy their requirements by melding elements of the fa’asamoa with that of democracy.

An example of this is that in Samoa, no one is allowed to stand for parliament without a matai title. So you must possess a chiefly title if you wish to make a mark in Samoan politics. However something else persisted which to me has been the real reason why cronyism is still existing in Samoa. The constitution of Western Samoa left a lot of power still within the hands of the local chiefs. Local villages still have the power to set rules within their own village tradition and custom. Any political strategist can see the potential pitfall of such a devolved sense of authority. The central government can set particular laws on things such as national taxation, however on issues of individual rights, a village council can still banish an individual, a family or even go as far as stripping titles which carry land with them from a person.

In defence of culture though, this practice is a continuation of centuries of political development within Samoan tradition. However the problem is this. Now this also extends to voting itself. A village council has the power to mobilize voting blocks. Therefore any person that lives within that village must vote in a general election according to the directive given by the village council. There is no secret ballot in Samoa’s villages. The village council effectively controls entire blocks. So how does this manifest itself as seats in Samoa’s fale fono? (parliament), Well lets look at the fact that since 1982, two years before my birth Samoa has known only one political party as its government. The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) have governed Samoa. Which is kind of an ironic name as many in Samoa believe that the HRPP are the biggest violators of Human Rights. Samoa it is argued, is now being run by an elected dictatorship.

Samoa’s current Prime Minister the Honourable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is perhaps more powerful than any other Prime Minister in the South Pacific. He and his party have manipulated the fa’asamoa or Samoan traditions of ‘consensus’ decision making by appealing directly to the traditional bias of Samoans. The international community laud Samoa for its strong stable ‘democracy’. But the term democracy being applied to Samoa is not only misinformed it’s down right offensive. Samoa’s people are not free to vote the way they like, they are not free to contest elections without fear of reprisals. A candidate who stood against the Prime Minister in the last election in his home electorate was told by the village council that if he ran against the Prime Minister and lost, he would be banished from the village. When asked by the Samoa Observer whether this was a tad harsh, the village council replied that it was tradition.

Unlike other countries where people’s human rights are obviously being violated in more violent forms, Human Rights groups refuse to even look at Samoa’s condition for fear of being accused of being neocolonialist. And by accepting things such as Samoa’s robust ‘political system’, and lack of civil unrest in comparison to other states in the South Pacific, the people of Samoa are left to live their lives under a haze of political control veiled in traditional preservation.

So when it emerged this week that in Samoa a teenager is being held in prison awaiting charges of defaming the Prime Minister because of a video he made making fun of him, and as appalled as I was at the mere fact that his Human Rights were being unashamedly violated by his own village council which turned him in, I was more appalled at the lack of response from the Samoan community. But at the same time I realised that this was something that the people of Samoa had no fault in.

Our people have been conditioned to believe that we are in fact the superior Polynesian group as we are fully independent, without civil unrest, political stability and one of the strongest economies in the South Pacific. But very few of us appreciate the other side of tradition. That side is that we are being socially herded toward following tradition over common sense.

In the 1990s Singapore’s PM Lee Kuan Yew is well known for sparking what was known as the Asian values versus Democratic values debate. He argued that Asian values and democracy were in conflict with each other. Asian values emphasized collective action, suppression of the rights of the individual for the benefit of all. Sacrificing for the future as Asia’s economies become little miracles. The Tiger economies of Singapore, Korea and Taiwan in particular were able to flourish under harsh dictatorial regimes. Samoa faces a very similar debate today, but the difference is, no one is prepared to talk about it openly. Our tradition does go against individual human rights. We need to acknowledge this and begin a national dialogue about this issue. However I fear that any attempts by anyone outside of the upper echelons of political power in Samoa will be shutdown in the name of tradition. So I’m also very weary about posting this opinion piece as I’m sure many people would react violently to what I’m expressing.

Here’s what I’m expecting to hear. “You don’t understand the fa’asamoa properly”, and “Typical rubbish coming from an overseas born Samoan who knows nothing about our culture” and “Keep your palagi ideas to yourself” but here’s what I have to say to all of those criticisms.

Sa foai mai e Le Atua i tatou uma taleni eseese, ia te a’u lava, sa foai mai le gutu, o mafaufauga ma le poto. E lē mafai ona faimai se tagata ia te a’u e le taulia ni o’u mafaufauga. Pe afai na loto Le Atua oute lē tautala i upu oute malamalama iai, ole a le uiga ole gutu ma le mafaufau sa foai mai ia te a’u? Afai na lē loto Le Atua oute tautala i mataupu faapenei, ua leva ona aveeseina lo’u malamalama ma Le atamai o lo’o foai fua mai iā te ia. E taua uma taleni ua foai mai e Le Atua, ma e taua lava ona faaaoga uma taleni a tagata.

We were all given different talents and abilities from the heavens. Mine has always been the ability to speak my mind clearly, I was given the gift to understand these palagi concepts and relate them to being Samoan. No man has the right to deny me the use of my gifts, and I intend on using them as best as I can to ensure that the marginalized Samoan has a voice.

As a people we need to stop dismissing the ideas of ‘other’ Samoans. And we need to realize that tradition should not be an excuse for autocracy. Unfortunately this is the path that we are beating today if we choose to continue to ignore what’s happening right in front of us.

See you soon Samoa! You will always be my first love.

Patrick Reloaded

I know it’s been a very long time since I blogged anything, and to be honest I feel a little rusty, and so much has occurred in my life that I really don’t know where I should begin. At the end of 2013 I realised that I hadn’t posted a single blog entry over the course of the entire year. Which was extremely lazy on my part. Granted I did go back to grad school last year and had some incredible results. ie I am now a fully funded scholarship student! TYJ! and I did study really hard last year, leaving very little room for blogging. But I really missed having the opportunity to publish my views in full, in a medium that didn’t require me to shorten my musings, and in the end I felt like I was starting to get in trouble on other social media platforms because of the limited space. It lead to a situation of not being completely understood by the social media world.

So I made a resolution that 2014 would be the year for me to restart my blog and so it shall now begin! I’m sorry to those who wanted to read more of my stuff errrr (none of you) hahaha but recently I’ve found myself immersed in situations where I have not been able to fully get my opinions out. There are so many areas that I want to blog about that at times it becomes overwhelming, so much so that I don’t know where I should start. But I guess starting somewhere is better than starting nowhere, so here’s me making good on my promise for 2014, poly anarchist is back and is ready to shake things up again online, one post at a time. Happy New Year everyone!

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Quick Update

I just wanted to say a quick apology to everyone for not being online a lot recently.

However, I’ve been run off my feet trying to sort out my new working conditions and settling into a new schedule. There has been so much going on relative to the political scene in NZ and the World in general that I’ve been dying to comment on, unfortunately I just don’t have the time.

I promise to get back to making controversial blog posts, and voicing my somewhat unreserved and unqualified opinion. I also look forward to updating my friends and family about what’s going on in my personal life. As this is also the only way you can keep up to date with me here in Korea, seeing that I’ve gone off of facebook yet again.

Remember you can still see what I’m up to through my twitter account, those of you who are interested. :)

I’ll be back on soon. Promise!

Alofa atu!