21st February 2014
No matter what you think of the ALP or the LNP policy on asylum seekers, regardless of whether you voted for this government or not, the riots, the violence and social unrest, the fear, the death and the injuries happened on our watch. Ours. Us. Australia.
Australia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines the rights of individuals seeking asylum and the responsibilities of nations that provide asylum.
No matter our individual view as to whether the ‘transferees’, ‘asylum seekers’ or ‘refugees’ should be settled in Australia, no matter our personal politics, once our navy engaged and asylum seekers were processed to Nauru or Manus Island, we undertook responsibility for these people, and our government has a duty of care to ensure their ongoing safety and wellbeing.
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(1) .
Most of the rights crucial to the protection of asylum seekers are also the fundamental rights embodied in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. First and foremost is the right to life, liberty and security of person. Up there with the right to seek asylum is the right to freedom from torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
We have failed to ensure both of these rights.
A 118 page report by Amnesty International found that conditions on Manus Island in November 2013 were appalling and the treatment of the asylum seekers humiliating. Months of escalating unrest and violence, unchecked but widely reported on, led to the events on Manus Island this week and the violent death of a 24-year-old Iranian. He was not a martyr or a criminal, he was a young man seeking asylum, held in detention by, and in the care of, the Australian Government. Our government.
Current government policy is to detain anybody who attempts to enter our sovereign borders without a valid visa. Australia is the only country in the world to strictly enforce mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Australia’s policy of mandatory detention runs counter to that of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that detention should not normally be used as a measure to control asylum seekers.
“In view of the hardship which it involves, detention should normally be avoided.” UNHCR ExCom Conclusion no. 44 (1986).
The UNHCR, whilst recognising the use of military forces to deliver humanitarian assistance can save lives in certain situations, takes the approach that humanitarian operations should be of civilian character and appearance, impartial and independent of political considerations.
It’s highly questionable whether this approach is reflected in the Abbott Government’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, or the imminent military intervention on Manus Island.
The UNHCR also advocates the right to confidentiality and the safeguarding of personal information of asylum seekers. Once again we see that our government has not acted in accordance with the UNHCR, accidentally posting extensive personal details on the Australian Government website, information that could compromise the security and safety of people in their care.
So can we say that our government has acted in accordance with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to which our country is a signatory?
“It is important to ensure that there are no provisions in the legislation that allow any authority to undertake any act concerning refugees or asylum-seekers that may amount to a violation of any of their basic rights and fundamental freedoms under general international human rights law.” Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law.
Not on our watch.