Wednesday, April 27, 2016

PNG's Supreme Court rules detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal By PNG correspondent Eric Tlozek and political reporter Stephanie Anderson

Updated earlier today at 4:58am
Asylum seekers stare at media from behind a fence
Photo: The court ordered PNG and Australia immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG. (AAP: Eoin Blackwell, file photo)
Related Story: PNG Government says refugee assessments on Manus Island completed
Related Story: Iranian refugee on Manus hopes PNG will reconsider his case after tree protest
Related Story: Manus detainees say they will be allowed to leave centre during the day
Map: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has ruled Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal.
Key points:

Judges say detention on PNG breached asylum seekers' fundamental human rights
Lawyer says PNG ignored it own laws when taking in Australia's refugees
Dutton says no refugees will be resettled in Australia
Greens pushing for detainees to be brought to Australia

The five-man bench of the court ruled the detention breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution.

There are 850 men in the detention centre on Manus Island, about half of whom have been found to be refugees.

The Supreme Court has ordered the PNG and Australian Governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.

"Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights," the judges ordered.

In one of two lead judgments, Justice Terence Higgins said the detention also breached asylum seekers' fundamental human rights guaranteed by various conventions on human rights at international law and under the PNG constitution.

"Treating those required to remain in the relocation centre as prisoners irrespective of their circumstances or status … is to offend against their rights and freedoms," Judge Higgins said.
'Disgraceful' decision to take in Australia's refugees

Media player: "Space" to play, "M" to mute, "left" and "right" to seek.
Video: Julian Burnside on PNG Supreme Court finding Manus detention is illegal (The World)

Loani Henao, the lawyer for former PNG opposition leader Belden Namah, said the decision showed the PNG Government had ignored its own laws when it accepted Australia's asylum seekers.

"The gist of the ruling is the arrangement between the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia is unconstitutional from day one," he said.

Mr Henao said PNG was influenced by Australia in amending its constitution, to the benefit of Australia.

"That is disgraceful," he said.

The centre operators and PNG's immigration authorities have recently been trying to move refugees out of detention and into a so-called transit centre.

They are also offering them the chance to leave detention during the day under certain conditions.

The asylum seekers whose applications have not succeeded are unable to leave detention and are being told they must go back to their country of origin.

The Supreme Court decision means both groups — refugees and asylum seekers — are being illegally detained, because their freedom of movement is curtailed.

Media player: "Space" to play, "M" to mute, "left" and "right" to seek.

Video: Explainer: What does the ruling mean? (ABC News)
Refugees won't be resettled in Australia: Dutton

But Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said no detainees would be resettled in Australia.

In a statement, Mr Dutton said the ruling would not alter Australia's border protection policies.

The Government has no other option but to bring the people left there to Australia and allow them to apply for an Australian visa
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young

"No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia," he said.

"Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea. Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin.

"People who have attempted to come illegally by boat and are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia."

Mr Dutton said the agreement with PNG to establish the Manus Island centre was negotiated by the Gillard Labor government, but Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles told the ABC the former government had only signed a 12-month contract.
Fact check: Australia's responsibility

Is Australia responsible for asylum seekers detained on Manus Island? ABC's FactCheck investigates

Mr Marles said Mr Dutton needed to travel to PNG to sort out the issue as soon as tomorrow.

"We negotiated a 12-month agreement with Papua New Guinea for the use of Manus Island as an offshore processing facility in the expectation that the vast bulk of people would be processed and settled in that period of time," he said.

"Instead, we've seen a complete failure on the part of the Turnbull Government."

Mr Marles would not be drawn on whether remaining detainees should be transferred to Australia, saying instead it was important the people smuggler trade did not restart.
Greens say the 'game is up'

Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young has called for all remaining detainees to be brought to Australia.

Senator Hanson-Young told the ABC "the game was up" and Mr Turnbull has to listen to legal and humanitarian experts.

Australia must … promptly shut the centre down and transport all of the detainees to Australia for processing of their claims for asylum
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie

"Really the Government now has no other option but to bring the people left there to Australia and allow them to apply for an Australian visa," she said.

"They've seen two of their colleagues in the detention centre die, one at the hands of guards and another because he had an infected foot which became septic. These are people who have already suffered."

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has backed her calls, describing offshore processing as "a gaping hole in Australia's soul".

"Australia must immediately respect the court ruling, promptly shut the centre down and transport all of the detainees to Australia for processing of their claims for asylum," Mr Wilkie said.

PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill last month told the National Press Club in Canberra that he wanted the regional processing centre to close.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

In Remembrance of Me A Poem for Maundy Thursday

Stained glass window depicting Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper in the cathedral of Brussels. by jorisvo /
By Lindsey Paris-Lopez Sojourners March 24, 2016
I am this broken and bleeding world.
I am Brussels, blown apart, the strewn limbs, the piercing wail of a mother for her baby.
I am Yemen, at the marketplace, charred bodies of children face-down in the dust.
I am Syria, families cramming into boats as guns and missiles chase them from the shore.
I am Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, pockmarked by bomb blasts, orphaned children hiding away from clear blue skies.
I am the growling of empty bellies drowned by the sound of gold pouring into the bottomless coffers of the war machines as they devour their sustenance and spit out death in return.
I am generation upon generation of silenced and vanished victim buried in the ground and trampled.
I am slain from the foundation of the world.
Absorbing the fear and hate of thousands of years,
I clothed myself in flesh and vulnerability
And came back to my plundered home.
I walked among those whose pain I had shouldered from the beginning of time,
The cast off and thrown away.
I took the leper into my arms.
In my eyes the used and exploited found their humanity reflected back to them.
I opened the eyes of the blind.
I fed the starving with bread and wisdom.
I took the children on my knee.
As I walked, I scattered the Love in which I was born before time began.
A sick and aching world takes time to heal.
And in that time, fear moves fast.
The Powers that build their empires by exploiting divisions –
Only to reign in the sprawling chaos by uniting the deceived people against someone –
Have named me the enemy.
So now I come to you, my friends,
As we gather around this table.
And you quarrel about who among you is the greatest.
Don’t you see, it is this me-against-you attitude
That has brought me here, to the brink of my destruction?
For one evening, let us put aside the bitter bickering
And enjoy one last feast, one final fellowship.
If you want to be great, cast off the shackles of self-doubt that choke out your love for each other,
If you want glory, make it manifest in acts of service.
I come among you, I come below you, washing your feet,
To show you love you’ve never known.
You will never know how blessed and beloved you are,
Until you let the love within you pour out to others.
From the beginning of time, I have seen brother set against brother,
Nation set against nation,
Selfishness erupt in violence, converging upon victim after victim
All sprung from the same seed of desire for greatness against someone else.
If you want to be great, be for others,
Even as I am for you.
I am this broken and bleeding world.
This bread is my broken body.
This cup is my spilled blood.
As it has been done to victims from the beginning of time,
So it is done to me.
I give my broken self to you.
Take in my life.
Let me nourish you with my love
Until the spirit of compassion bursts the old wineskins of your brittle hearts …
Until you become a new creation.
Let the body of my work become the work of your body.
Embrace the outcasts,
Reconcile enemies,
Feed my sheep.
Unite in me, with me in you.
I give my broken self to you –
Only in coming together can the fullness of my life be manifest again.
Let this bread bind you together,
Let this wine wash away your divisions.
I am broken for a broken world
A world that needs your love
To be made whole again.
Take me into you and become my body.
Eat this bread.
Drink this wine.
Do this in re-membrance of me.
Lindsey Paris-Lopez
Lindsey Paris-Lopez is editor-in-chief at the Raven Foundation, where she uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tony Abbott’s open contempt for international human rights law March 31, 2016 4.15pm AEDT

Sarah Joseph  
Sarah Joseph is a Friend of The Conversation.

Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has penned an essay in Quadrant defending his government’s stance on national security. It betrays an extraordinarily open contempt for international human rights law.

Abbott starts by saying that he is proud that his government was committed to “uphold[ing] our values around the world”, then immediately repudiates “the moral posturing of the Rudd years”. Hence, he seems to quickly divorce Australian values from notions of morality. He then goes on to confirm that, as explained below.

Abbott and gross human rights abuses by Sri Lanka

Notoriously, Abbott was very forgiving of Sri Lanka’s human rights record when he attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in that country in 2013.

His stance contrasted sharply with those of the leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius (who all boycotted CHOGM that year due to Sri Lanka’s human rights record), and that of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who raised the issue of war crimes while attending the meeting.

Sri Lanka finished a decades-long civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers) in 2009, with tens of thousands of civilians killed in the final weeks of the conflict. Since then, Sri Lanka has faced credible allegations of gross war crimes at the end of that war, and the UN continues to call for an independent investigation. While Sri Lanka’s new government has promised to comply, it currently seems a faint prospect.

In his Quadrant essay, Abbott defends his Sri Lanka stance. He is proud that Sri Lanka’s president at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa:

… was pleased that Australia didn’t join the human rights lobby against the tough but probably unavoidable actions taken to end one of the world’s most vicious civil wars.

Rajapaksa has since lost power. It is not clear whether Sri Lanka’s current government is happy with Abbott’s craven stance at CHOGM towards its political opponent. It is clear that victims were appalled by it.

Abbott excused war crimes, and continues to do so, trivialising the killings of thousands of civilians as “tough actions” which were “probably unavoidable”. Presumably, Australia’s “values” for Abbott exclude support for the international law of armed conflict.

Abbott has topical company here, if one compares the statements of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who recently describe the core war law treaties, the Geneva Conventions, as a “problem” given their prohibition on torture.

Stopping the boats

Abbott’s Sri Lanka position was a means to an end, as he freely admits in his Quadrant essay. Australia needed Sri Lanka’s help in “stopping the boats”.

That may be so, but it is likely that many of those that were stopped with Australian help from fleeing Sri Lanka were genuine refugees fleeing persecution. After all, Sri Lanka remains accused of ongoing human rights violations, both under Rajapaksa after the civil war and under its new government, including torture. Hence, Australian values according to Abbott include a repudiation of the right to seek asylum from persecution.

Furthermore, Abbott is incautious with the truth here, in referring to the arrival of 50,000 people and 1200 drownings under the Rudd-Gillard governments as justification for Australia’s close co-operation with Sri Lanka. The vast majority of boats came from Indonesia, and the vast majority of drownings occurred on that route.

Abbott goes on to assert that the boat arrivals were a “national security” issue, as:

… a country that can’t control its borders sooner or later loses control of its future.

This is a bold assertion with no evidence. All boats that arrived in Australia were apprehended, and there is no evidence that those who have arrived by boat have threatened Australia’s national security.

Abbott later acknowledges the importance of Indonesia’s role in “stopping the boats”, so he admits to “a very early sign of good faith” towards its government. West Papuan asylum seekers were “quietly returned to Papua New Guinea”, which may constitute refoulement depending on the circumstances.

The right of non-refoulement, that is the return of a person to a place where they legitimately fear persecution, or to a country which will send them on to such a place, is the major plank of international refugee law. International refugee law is however clearly not a plank of Australia’s values, according to our former prime minister.

While Abbott was happy to show good faith to Indonesia in possibly refouling West Papuan activists, he makes no explicit mention of Indonesia’s continued protests at Australia’s insistence on returning asylum boats to its shores.

Abbott’s concerns over Indonesia’s sovereignty, so apparent in preventing a protest by (some other) West Papuan activists sailing from Australia to Indonesia, seem selective. So too do his concerns over sovereignty generally, given his eagerness, confirmed later in the essay, to send Australian troops to Ukraine to secure the site of the downed MH17.

Abbott’s open contempt for the international rule of law is perhaps matched by a cavalier attitude to Australian law. He admits that Operation Sovereign Borders was felt by “some government lawyers” to be “beyond power”. Such concerns are brushed off by the assertion that “the government simply had to stop the boats”, rather than with any assurance that the policy in fact complied with the rule of law.

A refreshing candour?

Perhaps Abbott should be applauded for displaying a refreshing candour regarding the true motivations of government, with his realpolitik rejection of international law.

Other Western governments, including Australian ones, have hypocritically proclaimed a commitment to international human rights law while effectively turning blind eyes to major human rights abuses by allies such as Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. US President Barack Obama can condemn torture but still authorise unprecedented numbers of drone strikes with little transparency and little likelihood of compliance with international law.

And successive Australian governments tolerated crimes against humanity by Indonesia in Timor Leste. Do words matter if betrayed by deeds? At least Abbott can perhaps be said to be doing what he said and what he meant (to paraphrase his Quadrant essay).

Except he isn’t. Confusingly, in relation to Russia’s role on MH17, Abbott says that:

… the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.

In relation to Australia’s role combating Islamic State, he says that:

We can never abandon civilised values.

In relation to the rise of China, he says that all countries in our region have a “stake in rules-based global order”. Yet, in relation to Sri Lanka and possible refoulement of West Papuan activists, Abbott brazenly abandoned “civilised values”, endorsed the “trampling of justice and decency”, and jettisoned some of the most fundamental rules of the current global order.

Furthermore, words do matter. Certainly, the international rule of law, including international human rights law, is under constant strain from the self-interested realpolitik of probably all countries (to different extents). And yet it survives as some sort of constraint on state behaviour.

Seven years after the end of its civil war, Sri Lanka remains under significant pressure to provide redress, and a judicial net within Sri Lanka may now be closing in on the previously “untouchable” Rajapaksa.

Abbott’s open and proud rejection of international human rights law is a manifestation of a dangerous phenomenon, apparently shared by Trump. While governments may often fail to stick to the values that they say they uphold, the international rule of law has little hope at all if those values are simply discarded altogether.

Tony Abbott’s open contempt for international human rights law March 31, 2016 4.15pm AEDT

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sri Lanka torture victims call for international war inquiry

Two Sri Lankan Tamils tell DW how they were rounded up after the civil war ended, and tortured. They hope to pressure the government to bring in foreign judges to investigate war crimes allegations.

Cigarette burns on Tamil torture survivor: Photo by Will Baxter, for Tainted Peace: Torture in Sri Lanka since May 2009, Freedom from Torture

34-year-old Mayairan, from Sri Lanka's north-eastern district of Mullaitivu was studying in Malaysia when his country's 26-year-long civil war ended in May 2009.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had fought ferociously for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east, was overwhelmed by government forces in the last months of the conflict. The government finally defeated the notorious group known as the Tamil Tigers.

In the months following the war, thousands of Tamils went missing, including Mayairan's parents. Witnesses described how security forces rounded up Tamils in white vans for interrogation, never to be return. Fearing his parents could have been taken, Mayairan flew home and went looking for them, but was arrested himself when he reached the former war zone.

"I was taken to an army camp and they told me I had to sign a document admitting to being an LTTE member. I said I wasn't even living in Sri Lanka, but they didn't believe me," he told DW.

Mayairan says he was beaten and tortured for several weeks. At one point, the pain was so bad he passed out. Despite having no direct association with the LTTE, he eventually signed the confession.

Trauma and scars

"Sometimes they'd bring you into the room twice a day trying to get you to confess. They broke my nose and I lost several teeth. I'd get hit on my head, my back and my legs," he told DW, showing scars on his head and body he said were inflicted during the torture.

While it's claimed that numerous Tamils have been held for years without charge and that many never got out of detention alive, Mayairan's family pulled strings to help clear his name.

"My parents, who were actually looking for my brother-in-law, by chance found me in custody and paid a bribe to the army to get me out," he said. He later paid an agent to arrange a UK student visa and flew to London.

Another torture survivor, 39-year-old Kalairajan from the northern town of Vavuniya described what happened after he and his family surrendered to authorities in May 2009. He was separated from his loved ones and lined up in front of a van.

Inside the vehicle was a Tamil informer, working for the government. Kalairajan explained how the informer would press the car horn if he recognized you as a member of the Tamil Tigers, and you would be separated from others and taken away.

"When the horn sounded for me, my heart stopped, I started sweating and shivering and thought I was going to pass out," he said.

He was stripped naked, beaten and sent to a "rehabilitation center" for ex-Tamil fighters.

"The room they took me to would make you faint. Inside were rods and iron bars and you see blood everywhere. You could also see the injuries to some of the other prisoners," Kalairajan told DW.

"Sexual torture"

When he wouldn't admit to being an LTTE fighter, the officers put a polythene bag over his head and dowsed it with petrol, Kalairajan said. He struggled to breathe for several minutes due to the fumes. They eventually took off the bag, before again ordering him to admit he was a member of the LTTE.

"During one torture session, one of the guards grabbed my penis and pulled the skin back. Then he took a needle-like instrument, a long mental piece and then inserted it into the top of my penis," Kalairajan explained.

Branding marks on Tamil torture survivors: Photo by Will Baxter, for Tainted Peace: Torture in Sri Lanka since May 2009, Freedom from Torture
Branding marks on the back of a Tamil torture survivor, photographed for Freedom From Torture's report, Tainted Peace: Torture in Sri Lanka since May 2009

The other guards started laughing as the metal strip was removed and then reinserted, while Kalairajan bled and screamed in pain.

After more than five months in detention, he escaped and fled to India and then the UK, where he and Mayairan are being helped by the London-based NGO Freedom From Torture.

More they six years after the war ended, both men are waiting to hear if their UK asylum claims will be successful. Like almost 60 percent of cases, their initial applications were rejected. Kalairajan's case is being appealed, while Mayairan is making a fresh application, after initially receiving bad legal advice.

Wider investigation stopped

Sri Lanka has pledged to investigate the disappearance of Tamils, and other alleged atrocities in the final months of the war. But the Colombo government has ruled out allowing United Nations war crimes teams to visit.

The government continues to deny accusations of severe torture and sexual violence at the end and after the war. But Freedom From Torture's joint head of psychiatric services, William Hopkins, told DW he's seen plenty of evidence.

"Sexual violation is very common, many people have been raped or humiliated. Another form of torture is asphyxiation, and one of the things we can successfully document medically/legally is branding. The victims have been burned with iron rods."

Both men told DW they hope the Sri Lankan government will properly investigate the many cases of torture and disappearance from the Tamil community following the nearly three decade-long conflict.

"Truth will come out"

Other Sri Lankan torture survivors that Freedom From Torture has treated are equally disappointed at a lack of justice for what's been done to Sri Lankan Tamils.

"They don't believe this (an inquiry) can be done by domestic judges," Hopkins told DW. "They would like hybrid courts, where international judges and investigators come along with domestic authorities and look into these human rights violations."

Mayairan and Kalairajan will struggle to move on with their lives while they remain in what Hopkins described as "asylum limbo".

"It can be years before they do get asylum. They have all the stress and secondary psychological problems from waiting. It can be very distressing because they always fear that they'll be sent back and tortured again," he added.