The Guardian November 21, 2001

Letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer

We write as a matter of urgency following the re-election of your 
Government and on behalf of the combined memberships of our many 
organisations concerning the military strikes against Afghanistan. In the 
wake of the September 11 attacks against civilian targets in Washington and 
New York and while dispersal of anthrax spores continues to be used as a 
weapon of fear against civilians in the US, we wish to add the voices of 
thousands of Australian women to community calls for an adequate and 
constructive means of addressing the problems of terrorism.

Firstly, we wish to convey to you our profound concern that the option of 
military strikes against Afghanistan was supported by the Government of 
Australia without any debate in our Federal Parliament.

Following the election period, we wish you to understand that there are 
many Australians, including many Australian women, who are opposed to the 
precipitate action which has resulted in the pursuit of military strikes 
against Afghanistan.

While we understand that the Australian Government, in choosing to support 
the military option, has sought to find a means of addressing the 
difficulties posed by terrorism, nevertheless we believe that the ample 
lessons of history demonstrate that such a military option, if its pursuit 
is continued, will prove to be not only inadequate but even inflammatory.

We believe that the destruction and violent loss of human life in mainland 
US on September 11 has been, and is presently being, compounded by further 
violence against the innocent people of Afghanistan.

Not only have some of the US missiles inevitably caused loss of life among 
non-combatants in cities in Afghanistan, but also refugee flows have 
increased markedly.

More than two million Afghani refugees have already fled to Pakistan. 
According to UN spokesperson, Eric Falt, there are a further seven million 
people within Afghanistan itself who are now at risk of starvation.

As the winter approaches, these people are becoming increasingly 

It must be noted that these huge refugee populations include 
disproportionate numbers of women and children and that there is a 
demonstrably disparate impact on them of hunger, health problems and 

The "peanut butter, baked beans and jelly" military ration packs presently 
being dropped from the air by the US military are manifestly inadequate. 
According to Eric Falt, the promised cash flows from the international 
community have not materialised, and the UN needs to be able to mobilise 
adequate relief items immediately.

As many commentators have fairly observed, even were the military mission 
to succeed on its own terms in isolating any Al Qaeda training cells which 
may remain in Afghanistan and/or killing or capturing Osama bin Laden 
himself, nevertheless, as a means of adequately addressing the problems 
posed by terrorism, such a strategy would remain an outright failure.

In such militarily charged circumstances, the capture or death of Osama bin 
Laden would serve, according to these commentators, as an inflammatory 
signal to the many hundreds of thousands in the Third World who may share 
his view that their present circumstances are so dire as to warrant the 
kinds of strategies which have been advocated by Osama bin Laden and his 

Thus, in the words of one commentator, terrorism is a "many-headed hydra" 
and ironically, an apparent "success" of the military mission may well 
serve the purposes of the terrorists.

In addition, military strikes and invasions of one country by another or by 
a number of countries outside of the United Nations are a breach of the UN 

In short, we believe that the pursuit of military strikes as a means of 
dealing with the problems posed by terrorism holds the potential to inflame 
and therefore increase terrorist responses, rather than to contribute to a 

In this context, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Australian 
Government's support for the military option is ill-conceived.

We are therefore calling for the means of addressing our current 
difficulties, particularly difficulties in addressing terrorism, which are 
adequate, well-directed and capable of success. We believe that more 
constructive and more thoughtful strategies needs to be pursued.

We therefore call on the Australian Government:

1. to use your good offices to work as a matter of the utmost urgency 
through all available international channels to ensure that the United 
Nations has the immediate cash inputs necessary to mobilise relief items in 
order to feed, shelter and provide health care for those at risk in 
Afghanistan and neighbouring countries;

2. to abandon the ill-conceived option of military strikes against 

3. to work through all available international forums to ensure that the 
perpetrators of the September 11 attacks are brought to justice through the 
available international legal machinery;

4. to pursue vigorously an adequate and well-directed means of addressing 
the problems of international terrorism under the auspices of the United 

5. to pursue the reconstruction of Afghanistan under the auspices of the 
United Nations;

6. a) to fully support the call by Mr Kofi Annan for the UN General 
Assembly to undertake the drafting of a comprehensive anti-terrorist treaty 
encompassing the 12 existing UN treaties and conventions;

b) to immediately sign and ratify such a treaty;

7. a) to ratify the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court;

b) to use your good offices with the United States Administration to 
persuade the US to abandon its opposition to the establishment of the 
International Criminal Court; and

8. to renew the Australian Government's commitment to the letter and the 
spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and provide all support for finding 
durable solutions to the increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers 
resulting from the current military response.

We thank you for your kind attention and look forward to your response on 
these points.

The letter was signed by:
Kiri Hata;
Chairperson, Australian National Council of Refugee Women
Cathy Picone;
International Executive Committee Delegate,
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Australian Section) 
Lulu Turner;
For the Association of Non-English Speaking Background Women of Australia
Eileen Pittaway;
For the Asian Women's Human Rights Council
Lesley McFarlane;
Treasurer, Association of Women Educators
Susan Hopgood;
Acting Federal Secretary, Australian Education Union (Federal Office)
Janet Giles;
Vice-President, Australian Education Union (SA Branch)
Jennifer Strauss;
President, Australian Federation of University Women
Helen Keleher;
For the Australian Women's Health Network
Sheila Jeffreys,
For the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (Australia)
Elspeth McInnes;
For the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
Anne Sgro;
National Convenor, Union of Australian Women
Diane Alley;
National Convenor, United Nations Association of Australia (Status of Women 
Sandy Killick;
Acting Chair, National Coordinating Committee Women's Electoral Lobby 
Joan Bielski; AM
For Women into Politics Inc.
Julie Oberin;
National Chairperson, Women's Services Network (WESNET)
Caroline Lambert;
For the Women's Rights Action Network Australia (WRANA)
Sandra Dann;
For the Working Women's Centre SA Inc
Lyn Morgain;
National Executive Officer
Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Australia

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