Monthly Archives: February 2015

30 Hazaras abducted in Afghanistan: officials

February 24, 2015 | AFP

— AFP/File


KANDAHAR: Masked gunmen have abducted 30 Shia Muslim men who were travelling by bus through central Afghanistan, officials said on Tuesday.

The men, members of the minority Hazara ethnic group, were taken on Monday evening in Zabul province, on the road between the western city of Herat and the capital Kabul.

Hazara Shia Muslims are often the target of sectarian violence at the hands of Sunni Muslim extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Our driver saw a group of masked men in Afghan army uniform signalling him and he thought they were soldiers so he stopped,” said Nasir Ahmad, an official with the Ghazni Paima bus company, told AFP.

“The gunmen took 30 Hazaras away with them.” Ahmad said the kidnappers took only the men on the two buses and released the women and children travelling with them.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction, but kidnappings for ransom by bandits, local militias and the Taliban are common in Afghanistan.

There have been fears recently that the influence of the Islamic State group, which has a strongly anti-Shia agenda, could be growing in Afghanistan.

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the police were “doing everything to ensure their safe release”.



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Australia secured asylum deal by staying ‘silent’ on rights abuses: Sri Lanka PM

February 23, 2015 | the guardian

Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe says former president agreed to help stop boats carrying asylum seekers if Australian government kept quiet.

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Ranil Wickremesinghe said Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s close relationship with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa was ‘a mystery’ to Sri Lankans. Photograph: Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi /Reuters

Australia stayed silent on alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka in exchange for cooperation in cracking down on people-smuggling, Colombo’s new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Monday.

Wickremesinghe said former president Mahinda Rajapaksa had agreed to help stop boats carrying asylum seekers leaving for Australia if Canberra kept quiet about alleged abuses committed by the previous regime.

In an interview with the Australian newspaper, Wickremesinghe said Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s close relationship with Rajapaksa, who was voted out of power last month, was “a mystery” to Sri Lankans.

Colombo’s new premier also said that “people connected to the previous government” had taken part in people-smuggling operations.

“It was being done by people with Rajapaksa connections, but once this deal was done between Australia and the Rajapaksa government, where you looked the other way [on human rights abuses], then the secretary of defence got the navy to patrol,” he told the broadsheet.

“You could not have got anyone out of this country without someone in the security system looking the other way, the police or the navy.”

The arrival of asylum seekers by boat is a sensitive political issue in Australia, which in 2013 started sending those picked up on boats to offshore camps on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru.

Most asylum-seeker boats that have made the precarious journey to Australia came from Indonesia, but 120 left from Sri Lanka in 2012 for what can be a voyage of up to three weeks.

Wickremesinghe said he was not against the Australian government, but urged them to learn from their experiences.

“Some other countries must also, that fully backed the Rajapaksa regime,” he told the newspaper. “When human rights were being trampled, and democracy was at bay, these countries were silent. That is an issue for Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lanka’s new government has promised a domestic probe into alleged war crimes under Rajapaksa.

The previous regime had resisted a UN inquiry into claims that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed under Rajapaksa’s command in the final months of a war that ended in May 2009.

Ahead of travelling to Sri Lanka in 2013 for a Commonwealth summit, Abbott said he said he was “not inclined to go overseas and give other countries lectures”.

His office had no immediate comment to Wickremesinghe’s comments in the Australian.


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Worldwide protests planned over Manus Island detention centre

February 15, 2015 | 9news

An image supplied by the Refugee Action Collective purports to show unrest at Manus Island's Delta compound. (Refugee Action Collective)

An image supplied by the Refugee Action Collective purports to show unrest at Manus Island’s Delta compound. (Refugee Action Collective)

An international group of refugee activists are planning worldwide protests over the treatment of asylum seekers in Manus Island, just days after Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended his government’s record on mandatory detention.

The group, Australians and Allies Overseas Against Mandatory Detention, has already staged protests across the US, Europe and South America.

Further rallies, organised through social media under the hashtag #ShutDownManus, are planned for locations including The Hague, Hong Kong, Paris and Edinburgh.

The group’s New York organiser, Alex Kelly, said Australia had an obligation to welcome asylum seekers.

“We are sending a message to the Abbott government that we are opposed to mandatory detention, and to let detainees know that there are many Australians and people around the world who support their struggle.”

Australia’s treatment of refugees in recent years has come under worldwide scrutiny, and the Australian Human Rights Commission released a report blasting current and past governments for keeping children in detention.

The commission’s report found that keeping children in mandatory detention for prolonged periods caused mental and physical illness.

Mr Abbott has blasted the report, dubbing it a “transparent stitch-up”.


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Tony Abbott fails another leadership test

February 13, 2015 | the age editorial

Tears behind bars ... The saddening sketches of children in detention.Tears behind bars … The saddening sketches of children in detention. Photo: Supplied

Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday attacked the Australian Human Rights Commission over its report into children in immigration detention, saying “the Human Rights Commission should be ashamed of itself”. No, Mr Abbott – it is you and your government that should be ashamed. By seeking to politicise the report and its findings, by seeking to demonise commission president Gillian Triggs, the government compounds its own failures and those of preceding governments. It has tried to shift attention to anyone and everyone, while accepting no responsibility, which only magnifies its own shameful behaviour.

There is no rationale for holding children in detention. Mr Abbott should have seen the report as a call to act – indeed, as an opportunity to do the right thing – not an opportunity to obfuscate and point fingers. The only humane response should have been: Children are suffering – what will we do about it?

The Triggs report was delivered to the government in November. Mr Abbott and his colleagues have had months to formulate an effective, dignified response. Instead, they sat on it until the last possible moment and then followed its release on Wednesday night with a remorseless attack – on the report, its author and the former Labor government.

In some respects the report could have been regarded as being supportive of current government policy. It says Operation Sovereign Borders “has prevented asylum seekers from reaching our shores. The consequence is that it has become possible to focus on those  … asylum seekers who are currently detained in Australia and on Nauru and Manus Island.”

It also details how the government has succeeded in at least reducing the number of children held in detention.

Mr Abbott’s response to this report indicates that, despite his claims to the contrary following Monday’s leadership vote in the Liberal party room, nothing has changed in his approach to governing. His instinct is to attack, instead of  taking a position based on decency and dignity.

He and his former immigration minister, Scott Morrison, have seen this important inquiry as an opportunity to deliberately and methodically disparage and undermine the Human Rights Commission.

That is shameful.

In May 2013, with Julia Gillard as prime minister, The Age wrote: “For as long as children remain locked up, Australian values remain sullied. This heinous practice is contrary to who we are.” There is a continuing humanitarian crisis taking place under the authority of the Australian government – according to its own monthly immigration detention report from January 31, 2015, there were 211 children under some form of mainland detention, plus 119 in offshore detention behind fences in Nauru, with no pathway to protection or settlement.

The Human Rights Commission inquiry that led to its report questioned both the former Labor immigration minister Chris Bowen, and Mr Morrison as the then minister. Both agreed on oath that holding children in detention did not deter asylum seekers or people smugglers.

No satisfactory rationale for the prolonged detention of children seeking asylum in Australia was offered.

The Abbott government has been handed an opportunity to act responsibly and with compassion. On behalf of all Australians, it should support the Human Rights Commission, acknowledge that the actions of successive governments have been shameful, and end the mandatory detention of children.


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Scott Morrison’s denial of visa to refugee from Pakistan unlawful, high court finds

February 12, 2015 | the guardian

The high court said the man, a Hazara, faced ‘a real chance of being seriously harmed or killed by extremist groups if he was returned to Pakistan’.

The high court said the man, a Hazara, faced ‘a real chance of being seriously harmed or killed by extremist groups if he was returned to Pakistan’. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

High court justices unanimously rule that basis of refusal – that he arrived by boat – was not legally valid and he must be granted a permanent protection visa.

The high court has ordered the immigration minister to grant a Pakistani refugee a permanent protection visa after three years in immigration detention and sustained government efforts to refuse him.

The government has promised the man a permanent visa within a week.

The high court unanimously ruled that former immigration minister Scott Morrison’s decision to refuse the man a visa was unlawful.

The minister denied the visa simply because the man arrived by boat. The immigration department had found he had a genuine fear of persecution and Australia was legally obliged to protect him.

The Pakistani man arrived on Christmas Island by boat in May 2012. A member of the Hazara ethnic minority and a Shia Muslim, the man faced, the high court said, “a real chance of being seriously harmed or killed by extremist groups if he was returned to Pakistan”.

The man was initially permitted to apply for a visa by Labor immigration minister, Chris Bowen. His application was rejected. However, on appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal, he was found to be a refugee requiring protection.

But the man was then denied a visa because the minister, by then the Coalition’s Morrison, unilaterally capped the number of visas to be issued.

The high court ruled that action invalid.

The minister then denied him a visa on grounds it would not serve the “national interest” to grant him protection, because he arrived by boat. The court ruled that while the government’s policy was that no unauthorised maritime arrival should be granted a visa to stay in Australia, the law required the minister to grant the visa within 90 days.

The minister’s efforts to “prolong the plaintiff’s detention” by simply refusing to grant the visa were unlawful too.

“The court found … the minister could not refuse an application for a visa only because the applicant was an unauthorised maritime arrival.”

Chief Justice Robert French “made an order commanding the minister to grant the plaintiff a permanent protection visa”.

Guardian Australia reported in October that then immigration minister Morrison was warned by his own department that his attempts to refuse permanent protection visas were illegal and would be defeated in the high court.

Documents before the high court show Morrison was told on 15 January, in a brief from his department, that his policy objective of never granting permanent protection to boat arrivals could not be achieved “in the medium to long term” but that he could “delay being forced to grant” visas in the short term.

The departmental brief is confidential, but sections of it are reproduced in submissions before the high court.

The brief gave Morrison five strategies “to delay being forced to grant a permanent protection visa in the absence of a new temporary visa”, but conceded “each of these strategies is likely to be short lived as a consequence of decisions taken in parliament to overturn them or in the courts to invalidate them”.

Morrison ignored that advice and refused the Pakistani man a visa.

The current immigration minister, Peter Dutton, acknowledged the high court’s judgment and said a permanent protection visa would be issued within seven days.

“The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is looking into the implications of the decision, but they appear to be limited,” a spokesman said.

“This decision doesn’t affect the government’s policy that illegal maritime arrivals will not be granted permanent protection visas.”

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government’s actions showed its “arrogance” in dealing with asylum seekers and refugees.

“The immigration minister is not above the law, despite his consistent efforts to undermine the parliament and the high court,” she said.

“This man is a refugee, he came to Australia asking for help and it’s only after being dragged through the courts that the government will recognise its duty and offer him protection.

“There was no need for this. It was only the government’s own hubris that brought them to this loss.”

The executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, welcomed the decision, saying the high court had ruled unanimously that the government had acted unlawfully in denying a person found to be a refugee protection, simply because he had arrived by boat.

“We are carefully studying the potential implications of the ruling for other refugees who arrived by boat, but who were refused a permanent protection visa because of their method of arrival.”

A spokesman for the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, said the high court ruling was significant in setting limits to ministerial power.

“Being a boat arrival already triggers a range of severe legal consequences under the Migration Act. The high court has said it was not for the immigration minister to unilaterally attach more under the guise of ‘the national interest’,” Webb said.

The government has been ordered to pay costs.


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Child detention report to unveil harrowing findings after months of delay and sniping

February 09, 2015 | the guardian

Human rights chief Gillian Triggs says writing her report has been a ‘life changing experience’ – but has attracted heavy fire from the critics.

Gillian Triggs

Gillian Triggs, the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, at the national inquiry into children in immigration detention last year. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The president of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Prof Gillian Triggs, says her forthcoming report on children held in immigration detention is both “scientific and credible”.

Speaking at an international law conference at the University of Sydney, Triggs said preparation of the report was a “life-changing experience” for her.

She visited 11 detention centres, conducted 1,129 interviews, held five public hearings, received 239 submissions, and took evidence from nine medical experts.

Throughout her investigation she was subject to vituperative criticism from the government and its supporters in the Murdoch press.

It was even suggested that it was improper to commence the inquiry after the Coalition came into government.

Triggs said on Friday that the inquiry is part of a 10-year follow-up review of the HRC’s 2004 findings on children in immigration detention. When the new review was being planned there had been limited releases of children and the average time in detention had been 1.3 years.

She said that the report will “tell the stories that moved me … The findings are important … Nothing should take away our humanity and the need to respond to these concerns.”

The stories she heard and the evidence she received are harrowing. Lives ruined by incarceration, uncertainty and crushed hope. The public submissions can be read here.

Triggs’s report has been with the attorney general, George Brandis, since 11 November. He is obliged to table it within 15 parliamentary sitting days of receiving it. If Brandis is true to his form, he will grit his teeth and table it at the last possible moment on Wednesday, or more likely earlier this week when the nation’s media is focused on other things.

Triggs cannot reveal the details of her findings before the report is tabled, but from evidence to the HRC and information gleaned from the Department of Immigration and Border protection’s website certain conclusions can be drawn:

• Nearly a third of children in detention are diagnosed with serious mental illness, compared with 2% in the Australian community;

• Harsh, cramped conditions resultr in the spread of illness;

• Many children have been the victims of assaults;

• There are high levels of self-harm and suicide attempts by parents and children (highest among children);

• Indefinite detention, with no access to lawyers, exacerbates the mental illness of parents;

• There has been no access to regular education on Christmas Island for at least a year;

• here were 1,100 children in detention when the HRC started its inquiry – there are now 420.

There has also been evidence that detaining children does not stop asylum seekers or people smugglers, which raises the question – why have the children been held so long?

The president of the HRC said on Friday that attacks on her work published by News Corp were a “furphy and … inaccurate”. She said stories written by the Australian’s legal affairs editor had been misleading: “You’d expect accurate reporting from the law pages of the Australian.”

Last month the Australian reported Deakin University law professor Prof Mirko Bagaric’s claim that Triggs was “legally flawed” in her decision recommending community detention for a West Papuan refugee, John Basikbasik, who has been held at Villawood for seven years.

This was the HRC recommendation that Tony Abbott claimed was “bizarre”.

Bagaric said Basikbasik’s long-term detention without charge or trial should not have been classified as “arbitrary”. Further, it was wrong to apply the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to underpin the HRC’s recommendations.

The Australian described Bagaric as “one of the nation’s leading authorities of [sic] human rights”.

Bagaric is also on record as being an advocate for the legalisation of torture. In 2005 he wrote: “The belief that torture is always wrong is, however, misguided and symptomatic of the alarmist and reflexive responses typically emanating from social commentators.”

If he is opposed to the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, it is little wonder Bagaric is also not in favour of recognising the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Australia has agreed to be bound by the terms of both these international obligations. However, they are not enforceable in law unless embedded in Australian legislation.

Another recent story in the Australian reported that the government had written to the Triggs to advise her it “fundamentally disagrees” with the commission’s “expansive reading” of its own jurisdiction that “overlooks its legislative underpinnings”.

This unsourced leaked letter reportedly claims the government is particularly concerned about the commission’s “reliance on jurisprudence from other states’ domestic legal systems and other documents which are not binding on Australia”.

The article suggests that the ICCPR has no place in Australian law.

The Australian Human Rights Commission Act requires the commission to inquire into “any practice that may be insistent with or contrary” to any human rights and the ICCPR is a schedule to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act.

Section 11 of the HRC Act says quite plainly:

“… (k) on its own initiative or when requested by the minister, to report to the minister as to the action (if any) that, in the opinion of the commission, needs to be taken by Australia in order to comply with the provisions of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights], of the Declarations [of the rights of the child or the rights of the mentally impaired] or of any relevant international instrument.”

Triggs sees the attacks on her as an attempt to diminish the credibility of the commission’s work.

Brandis has also made public his displeasure with the forthcoming HRC report: “I am very sceptical of the establishment of an inquiry into children in [immigration] detention at a time when the recently elected Abbott government had the problem well and truly solved.”

The criticism of the commission is an echo of the attacks on Sir Ronald Wilson’s 1997 HRC report on the stolen generation.

Triggs was advised by colleagues to “play a straight bat” in the face of the spin and mullygrubbers.

Not being a cricket follower she has had to work out just what they meant.


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Doctors speak out against conditions on Nauru

February 08, 2015 | smh

Medical staff have criticised what they say are poor conditions at the Nauru detention centre.Medical staff have criticised what they say are poor conditions at the Nauru detention centre. Photo: Angela Wylie

A medical team has described the “appalling” conditions at the detention centre on Nauru, saying there are not enough sanitary pads for women menstruating and children and women are forced to shower behind a flimsy curtain that often flies open in front of male guards.

Dr David Isaacs, a Sydney-based paediatrician, said he was shocked at the conditions the 895 asylum seekers lived in when he worked at the centre in December.

“Almost every child had behavioural problems relating to trauma and stress,” he said.

“It is hot all the time, it is dusty, with very poor facilities for washing,” he said. “They will limit the amount of time you’re allowed in the shower to two to three minutes because of water shortages, and then there is this distance between the showers and the tents. I was shocked by how awful it was.”

Dr Isaacs said he felt compelled to speak out against the conditions, despite the contracts he signed before working on the small Pacific island.

“I am not afraid to break my contract and to wear the consequences, because I feel not to speak out is to condone what is happening in our name,” he said.

His colleague, Alanna Maycock, who is a nurse, was similarly distressed by the lack of privacy for women in the camp and the number of children who were wetting their beds at night, in fear of walking in darkness to go to the bathroom.

“One Muslim mother we saw had to walk past male guards at night to reach the toilet while menstruating and a blood clot ran down her leg and fell to the ground in front of them,” she said.

“Another mother was too scared to go to the shower block at night to wash her child that was covered in diarrhoea.

“Women are expected to wash themselves and their babies where there is no door, no lock and the male guards can often see them.

“Women are also wetting the beds – they are too frightened to go to the toilet at night. There are male guards and there have been reports of sexual-based violence against the women by the local guards.”

Another doctor who also worked on Nauru, Dr Hasantha Gunasekera, said holding children in detention constituted child abuse.

“The mandatory detention of children, particularly in offshore processing centres like Nauru, is child abuse. It is completely and utterly inappropriate and also unnecessary, in terms of it not being effective and being exorbitantly expensive.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration denied there was a shortage of sanitary pads and said it would be inappropriate to discuss whether women and children were suffering from bed wetting. She said there were no plans to upgrade the showering facilities.

In October, former immigration minister Scott Morrison initiated an independent investigation into claims women on Nauru had been sexually assaulted by guards. The Moss Review is yet to be released. A department spokesman said: “The review is being finalised and its findings will be released in due course.”

In November, a female asylum seeker said she had been raped twice by a male asylum seeker, who was immediately given refugee status. That allegation was also forwarded to the Moss Review.

It comes as the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into children in detention is due to be released by the government.


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