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Britain To Compensate Pitcairn Sex Abuse Victims

9 Oct

LONDON : Victims of sex offences committed on the remote Pacific island of Pitcairn would be eligible for compensation, Britain said on Thursday.

Allegations of child sex abuse on the tiny island were first made in 1999, and eight men were eventually convicted of offences in 2004. Six received prison sentences, the other two community sentences.

“It is right that we have established a mechanism to offer compensation to the victims of the past child sex abuse on Pitcairn,” said junior foreign minister Meg Munn.

“We are working closely with the UK’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to ensure the levels of compensation are linked to the amounts awarded in the UK.

“What happened to these women was terrible and no amount of money will take that pain away. But I hope this will give them some recognition of their suffering. This is a significant step and it is the right thing to do.”

The six men who were sentenced to prison — just one of whom remains there at present — were convicted in 2004 of a range of sex offences against Pitcairn women and girls over a 30-year period.

Pitcairn is a British Overseas Territory around 3,300 miles (5,300 kilometres) from New Zealand with a population of around 50, according to the Foreign Office, and is only accessible via irregular naval traffic.

Though Britain is responsible for the island’s external relations and defence, the currency is the New Zealand dollar.

It was founded by mutineers from the British naval ship the Bounty, who famously set Captain William Bligh adrift in the South Pacific during a 1789 rebellion.

– AFP/vm

Channel News Asia

Sex Abuse Scandal Flares As Pope Prepares For Celebrations

16 Jul

SYDNEY : The scandal over child sex abuse by Catholic priests flared again on Wednesday as Pope Benedict XVI prepared to take centre stage at the world’s biggest Christian festival in Sydney.

While more than 200,000 young pilgrims attended beach concerts, barbecues and religious classes, the head of the church in Australia – Cardinal George Pell – faced a threat of confrontation by the parents of two victims of abuse.

The pilgrims are in Sydney for World Youth Day celebrations, which will be led by the pope from Thursday at the end of his four-day holiday at a retreat on Sydney’s outskirts.

But the scandal over sex abuse by corrupt clergymen has partly overshadowed the festival, despite the pope’s pledge to apologise to victims as he did in the United States in April.

The father of two girls abused by a Melbourne priest, one of whom committed suicide, has said he and his wife would travel back to Australia from Europe within the next few days for a confrontation.

Anthony Foster told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. he would not accept an apology unless the pontiff also changed the way the church and its lawyers dealt with victims of sex abuse.

“I want them to set up a system which provides lifetime help to victims, a system where they beg forgiveness of the victims,” he said.

Foster said he planned to make a public statement when he arrived and would demand a response from the pope and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell.

He said he hoped the pope would meet him to hear his demands for the church to adopt a new approach to the victims of abuse.

“I should not have to try to see them. They should be coming to us to beg our forgiveness,” he said.

Foster’s daughter Emma, 26, committed suicide this year after struggling to deal with abuse by a priest while she was at primary school.

Her sister Katie was also abused and turned to alcohol in her teens before being left brain-damaged after being hit by a car while drunk, the broadcaster reported.

The priest involved, Father Kevin O’Donnell, died in 1997 after serving time in jail for multiple sex offences, but the Fosters had to fight an eight-year legal battle for compensation from the church for the abuse, ABC said.

World Youth Day coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher told reporters at a regular briefing that most people were focusing on the positive aspects of World Youth Day “rather than dwelling crankily as a few people are doing on old wounds”.

But Pell later described the story of Emma Foster as “tragic”, saying he apologised to her and her family in 1998.

“I met with her parents. We offered them some financial help. We also offered them counselling,” he told reporters.

Broken Rites, a support group for victims of church-related sexual abuse, says that 107 Catholic priests and religious brothers have been sentenced in Australian courts on sex charges.

It accuses the church of hypocrisy by spending millions on World Youth Day when sex abuse victims are paid just 25,000 Australian dollars (23,500 US dollars) on average as compensation.

The pope, who has not announced when he will address the issue during his visit, was due to leave his semi-rural retreat for St Mary’s Cathedral House in central Sydney later Wednesday.

The 81-year-old pontiff, who has been recovering from jet-lag after the 20-hour flight from Rome, will make his formal arrival in Sydney in a 14-vessel “boat-a-cade” on the harbour on Thursday.

He is expected to be welcomed by crowds on spectator craft and harbour side vantage points before disembarking and addressing a gathering of around 100,000 pilgrims at Darling Harbour.

He will then take to his more traditional “Popemobile” for a tour of the city streets, which are expected to be lined with up to half a million people, organisers say.

Many streets were closed Wednesday and local residents were warned to stay out of the city, dominated by a flood of pilgrims from around the world.

– AFP/os

Channel News Asia

Australian Aborigines Label Government Crackdown A Land Grab

26 Jun

SYDNEY: Aborigines on Tuesday said the government was trying to steal their land under the guise of responding to a crisis that Prime Minister John Howard has labelled Australia’s own Hurricane Katrina.

Canberra began deploying police and soldiers to the Northern Territory outback this week under a controversial plan to combat widespread child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Indigenous leaders presented a letter bearing more than 90 signatures to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough Tuesday condemning the plan, which involves Canberra taking control of leases on Aboriginal land for five years.

Pat Turner, who was once Australia’s most senior Aboriginal bureaucrat, said Howard’s conservative government was trying to reverse hard-fought indigenous land rights.

“We believe that this government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our land,” she told reporters.

“No compensation will ever, ever replace our land ownership rights.”

The crackdown – including bans on alcohol and pornography, as well as medical check-ups for all children under the age of 16 – follows a damning government report into child abuse in indigenous communities.

While critics have branded it a paternalistic return to the past, Howard said strong action was needed to address a national failure comparable to Washington’s botched response when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

“Many Australians, myself included, looked aghast at the failure of the American federal system of government to cope adequately with Hurricane Katrina and the human misery and lawlessness that engulfed New Orleans in 2005,” Howard said in a speech late Monday.

“We should have been more humble. We have our Katrina, here and now.

“That it has unfolded more slowly and absent the hand of God should make us humbler still.”

– AFP/yy

Channel News Asia

Australian Police, Soldiers Deployed In Aboriginal Communities

25 Jun

SYDNEY: Police and soldiers began deploying to outback Australia on Monday as part of a radical plan to end child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities which has been criticised as a return to the nation’s paternalistic past.

Prime Minister John Howard last week announced he would use police backed by military logistics to seize control of indigenous camps in the Northern Territory to protect women and children.

The controversial decision, which includes bans on alcohol and pornography and medical check-ups for all children under the age of 16, was taken following a damning government report into child abuse in indigenous communities.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said 20 Australian Defence Force personnel were already on the ground and their number would be boosted in coming days as they prepared to deploy to remote communities.

“Right now I’m trying to stabilise in the order of 70-odd towns in the territory – that is a massive undertaking,” Brough said.

Federal police also began arriving in the Northern Territory capital, Darwin, Monday along with those from several states, each of which has been asked to contribute 10 officers.

But one of the most troubled communities, Mutitjulu near Uluru, has questioned what some of its leaders termed a military occupation.

“The fact that we hold this community together with no money, no help, no doctor and no government support is a miracle,” community leaders Bob and Dorothea Randall said in a statement released by their lawyer.

“Police and the military are fine for logistics and coordination but healthcare, youth services, education and basic housing are more essential.”

They also questioned whether children should undergo medical checks.

“Of course, any child that is vulnerable or at risk should be immediately protected, but a wholesale intrusion into our women and children’s privacy is a violation of our human and sacred rights,” the Randalls said.

Former conservative prime minister Malcolm Fraser also criticised the plan as a throwback to paternalistic practices of the past, such as the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

“People must be treated with respect, and in relation to this point they have not been,” Fraser told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“In relation to that, I said it was a throwback to past paternalism because it clearly this time has been put in place, announced without any consultation with the communities.”

Howard dismissed accusations of high-handedness over the plan, which was devised without consultation with Northern Territory leaders.

“I have no doubt that the women and children of indigenous communities will warmly welcome the federal government’s actions,” he said.

– AFP/so

Channel News Asia