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  • Death Traditions and an Off Tangent Rant

    My grandmother died on 11th of the first month of the lunar year in 2002. This year that date happened to fall on the 10th of February, a few days after I arrived in Saigon. It is a culturally important to commemorate the day on which a family member passes as a way to honour and serve the ancestors.

    So this year, three generations* of my mum’s family gathered for the day to fulfill a range of cultural traditions that are played out as loose ceremonies. Offerings of food in the form of a banquet, tea and alcohol are given to the deceased; sometimes this is tailored to the person who has passed. In my case I am hoping my family remembers that I like deep friend greasy food (when I decide to leave this world)!

    One of the traditional offerings is in the way of joss paper that is burnt of the dead. Joss paper is a form of underworld currency for the dead and those who occupy the realm of the dead. It’s contemporary is the Hell Bank Note which is also burnt as an offering to the dead to carry onto the after life or as a ‘bribe’ to the gate keepers of hell for safe passage into the afterlife.

    Article 14.1, borrows from this particular tradition of offering hell money as a way to honour those who perished at sea. It is estimated that up to half a million people went missing while trying to escape communist Vietnam; though this number is really only an estimate as there are no real records. Despite this sobering statistic people continue to risk life and limb for a small chance at freedom from governments and regimes that, simply put, persecute difference.

    The fate of the Vietnamese during the period of exodus following the fall of Saigon is not unique or exclusively ours. The events on Christmas Island on 15 December 2010 have clearly showed us that this is an ongoing issue of human rights. It is an issue for Australia as a signatory of the UDHR to address in a manner that is respectful to our claim as a liberal democracy.

    I would like to offer something I wrote as part of my 2005 thesis on ethnic minorities in Vietnam and China. It is a little off topic, but I think to some extent it is relevant. The international system is a system that is managed and maintained around notions of the Nation State. At the end of the day it is the job of governments to ensure that the rights of its people are upheld and protected under the UDHR. However, the problem with this system though is that governments as the guarantor of human rights are also the biggest violators of human rights.

    It is like leaving children in the care of a known abuser.

    An obvious statement, but is there a way to fix this? Governments are only put on trial once they have been toppled and even then it is hit and miss. Just look at Idi Amin.

    How do we make our democratically elected government REALLY accountable for it’s actions?

    *Note: there are actually 5 generations that are alive and kicking. My mum is the youngest of 13 and so the span in ages for any particular generation is quite large. The oldest of my generation is mid late 50’s and the youngest is still a teenager.