Asylum Center Expansion Is Evidence of Policy Failure

Asylum Center Expansion Is Evidence of Policy Failure

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia
– The Australian government will increase the capacity of a Christmas Island detention facility as a result of the increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum.

As a result of the government’s plans, the detention center, which will cost approximately $40 million, will be able to hold more than 2000 individuals.

The government believes that it is necessary to increase the number of beds by approximately 50%.

It will continue to expand the center as space is needed and remains committed to a policy of mandatory detention for all unauthorized boat arrivals.

Christmas Island officials claim that careful planning of the expansion will be necessary to ensure human treatment and avoid overcrowding.

While the government claims these plans are an effort to cope with the influx of asylum seekers over the last few months, opposition officials have a different view.

They claim this is evidence of the administration’s failing immigration policies.  Expanding the capacity of detention facilities is not the answer, they claim, but rather the government must strengthen Australia’s immigration laws.

“[The Prime Minister’s] policy was a failure, it’s in chaos and it’s a shambles,” opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull stated.

Over the last several months, these policies have sparked bitter debate.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd claims that the influx is the result of the current situations in countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.  The opposition, however, claims that the Rudd’s relaxation of the severe immigration policies inherited from his predecessor is at the root of the problem.

Rather than applying to the UN Refugee Agency, many asylum seekers will travel to Australia illegally by boat, which is encouraged by the administration’s lax policies.

This debate rages onward as seventy-eight Sri Lankan asylum seekers remain aboard a ship in waters just off one of the Indonesian islands.

Neither the government nor the asylum seekers are budging on their positions.

The asylum seekers indicated that they were being treated well but refused to disembark unless the ship went to Australia.

Indonesia will allow the ship to remain there for another week.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Detention centre expansion ‘proves policy failure’ – 31 October 2009

ABC News – Detention centre expansion confirmed – 31 October 2009

The Age – Christmas Is detention centre to expand – 31 October 2009

BBC News – Australia to expand asylum centre – 31 October 2009

Election Fraud Surrounding Female Afghan Voters

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan –   As women lined up to cast their ballots at various national voting stations, the event was tarnished by fraud and corruption. One man cast 35 votes for female relatives. Others lugged in sacks full of voting cards they claimed had been collected from women voters. In a village of only 250 people, 200 women supposedly voted in three hours.

Unfortunately, these stories are not unfamiliar. In Afghanistan‘s recent presidential election in August, one very sensitive area was that of fraud as women exercised their right to vote. The same speculation and concern remains present as the election on November 7 draws near for the runoff between President Hamid Karzai, and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Analysists are concerns as the stakes are so high.

Accepting the presence of fraud as it relates to allowing women to vote, the situation cannot be resolved in the weeks just before the election. There is a general acceptance of proxy voting by male relatives on behalf of female family members. In such circumstances, many women have expressed their reluctance to vote, primarily because of the threats of violence and polling centers that swarm with men. Further, those women who do brave the polling centers and are able to cast their ballots are often uneducated and therefore more easily manipulated.

Despite the uncertainty of how deeply rooted or how significant the impact of fraudulent women voting will be on the results in November, there is increasing speculation that women’s polling stations were more problematic than men’s since officials have not yet released the list of women’s polling stations.

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 file photo, Afghan women voters line up

This Photograph, taken August 20, 2009 shows Afghan women voters lining up to cast their ballots. Image Curtesy of Associated Press.    

According to a U.N. report, back in August, men arrived at voting stations carrying and submitting hand-fulls of female voter cards. Poll workers permitted these ballots to be cast without argument. The report further revealed that in some cases, men dragged in sacks full of cards supposedly for their female relatives. Under this sort of sporadic and unregulated election scheme, Theresa Delangis, part of a team working on election issues with the U.N. women’s fund, commented, “It allowed for women’s votes to be manipulated. Block voting, proxy voting, or there were just no women at the polling stations and those ballots were used for fraudulent votes.”

Concern remains as observers indicate that Afghanistan is no more of a safer voting environment now than it was two months ago. Election officials claim they have plans to recruit more women, but there is no reported progress to-date, as government workers are apparently waiting on a report of gender related proposals to the voting process.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Intimidation and Fraud Observed in Afghan Election – October 31, 2009 

Yahoo! World News – Fraud surrounds women voters in Afghan election  – October 30, 2009 

Khaleej Times – Fraud surrounds women in Afghan election – October 31, 2009

Austrian Students Protest Over Worsening Educational Conditions

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – Student groups in Austria protested again yesterday against what they see as poor educational conditions in the nation’s schools.  Approximately 30,000 students marched this past week in Vienna in opposition of proposed educational reforms and in favor of an overhaul in the nation’s educational system.  These marches, which have taken place in many of the country’s largest cities in recent days, have been organized by student organizations.

Students and teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts (AFA) in Vienna protested against this new educational reform proposal that is being adopted across Europe.  These reforms, known as the Bologna Process, are meant to the make it easier for students to study abroad and obtain degrees that can be recognized in other nations.  The AFA protesters alleged, however, that these reforms would prevent their ability to construct personally tailored degree programs.

The lack of funding for Austrian universities that currently exists has caused some of the student leaders to call for an end to free access to higher education.  Student Dominik Karas commented that “to increase the standard of education it would be better to reinstall tuition fees.”

Students at the University of Vienna also are calling for the elimination of entrance exams and fees for foreigners and longterm students.  Students have occupied one the school’s lecture halls for almost a week in an effort to draw attention to the funding issues.

The calls of the students involved in these protests have been directed at the national political leaders of Austria, notably the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.  Sigrid Maurer, Chairman of the Austrian Union of Students, has stated that these leaders must “take the education agenda into their hands.”

The student organizations are also calling for the end to alleged sex discriminations in certain university policies.  Currently females and foreign students are barred from certain university facilities.

This is not the first time that the Bologna Process educational reforms been met with student opposition.  In September students in Barcelona clashed with police over the implication these reforms.

For more information, please see:

XINHAUANET – Austrian students take to streets to demand more rights – 30 October 2009

PRESSTV – Austrian students urge education reform – 30 October 2009

EURONEWS – Austria’a students demand reforms – 29 October 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS – Austrian students protest poor conditions, reforms – 26 October 2009

Pitcairn Considers New Draft of Constitution

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

ADAMSTOWN, Pitcairn – The Governor of Pitcairn, George Ferguson, announced that the island is considering a new draft of the constitution because there is a need for human rights to be “spelled out.” The current constitution was enacted in 1970. Since then, there has been a need for a document to include provisions regarding human rights. The new constitution would replace the 1970 constitution.

In June 2009, Britain called for the democratic reform of Pitcairn. The reform of Pitcairn was to bring the island in accordance with European standards of governance and human rights.

New management structures were implemented, such as the election of the mayor as the leading governmental authority on the island, and giving the mayor a council, which is divided into four managers. By updating the judicial structure of Pitcairn, Britain hoped this would give the citizens more rights that are guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, not everyone on the island agrees with the new structures. Some of the islanders voiced their dismay at the changes to the island’s governance.

In a commentary to the changes in Pitcairn’s governance, the director of the Pitcairn Islands Study Centre in California, claimed that “Britain wanted to give the impression it was giving its overseas territories greater freedom in deciding their own future, when it was not.”

He further stated: “They have too little freedom to live their lives according to the best interest of the island itself. Everything is looked at through the eyes of a Britisher who has been appointed from London, sits 4000 miles away from them and really doesn’t understand all the problems on this island.”

In response to the opposition of the reform, Ferguson now hopes to draft a constitution that will include a state of rights based on the European Union Convention on Human Rights. He also hopes to create a post of the Attorney General and to define the Governor’s role.

But the main focus of the new draft would be the “explicit setting out of people’s rights.” Ferguson hopes that the new constitution will serve as a document that “spells out” human rights.

In explaining why the new draft is needed, Ferguson stated: “We have recently done legislation very much with the principles of the Convention of Human Rights in mind, and we are pretty confident that we are broadly compatible with it. But it seems right to make the powers explicit, enable people to have the power to challenge legislation or administrative things in terms of those rights – make it an explicit power, rather than just self discipline on the part of the Government…”

For more information, please see:
Islands Business – New Pitcairn constitution to spell out human rights – 28 October, 2009

Pacific Islands News Association – New Pitcairn constitution to spell out human rights – 28 October, 2009

Radio New Zealand International – New Pitcairn constitution to spell out human rights – 27 October, 2009

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Radio Australia – Big changes in Pitcairn government – 19 June, 2009

The New Zealand Herald – Democracy reform for Pitcairn – 18 June, 2009

Japan Urged to Protect Burmese Rohingya

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TOKYO, Japan –Japanese and international organizations sent a joint letter to Japan’s new justice and foreign ministers asking that the country’s new administration pressure Burma to end human rights abuses against minority groups.

The letter urged Japan to “urgently review its policies to protect the Rohingya both in Japan and Burma,” and to grant residential permits to Rohingyas in Japan.  In addition, Japanese government was asked to rescind their deportation order against Burmese asylum seekers.

The Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minority groups in Burma, and the Burmese government refuses to grant Rohingyas legal status in Burma, which leaves this minority group stateless.

Human Rights Watch reported that human rights violations against the Rohingyas include extrajudicial killings, religious persecution, forced labor, and restrictions on movement.

Kanae Doi, Tokyo director of Human Rights Watch, said, “Tokyo’s silence sends a message to Burma’s generals that their horrendous persecution of the Rohingya can continue…The Rohingyas have faced persecution…and mistreatment in the countries where they seek refuge.  The Japanese government should ensure their protection….”

In the past ten years, 110 Rohingya refugees have entered Japan and have petitioned the Japanese government for asylum.  However, although reports of forced repatriation do not exist, Rohingyas in Japan have been denied refugee status or have received deportation notices.

Japan has traditionally been reluctant to pressure Burma regarding human rights issues.  However, the signatories of the letter asked that Japan’s new government “make human rights a central pillar of Japanese foreign policy” by pressuring Burma to stop the human rights abuses and to grant Rohingyas full citizenship rights. 

Rohingya-refugees-In-Bangla Rohingya mother and child at a refugee camp by the Burma/Bangladesh border.  Courtesy of BBC.

Human Rights Watch also released a photo essay and report on the Rohingyas.  The report points to insufficient international attention to this issue and documents the exodus of Rohingyas from Burma to Bangladesh, in addition to focusing on the 20-year long persecution of Rohingyas inside Burma, especially in the Arakan state.

The drafters of the letter also held a public event in Tokyo concerning the treatment of Rohingya refugees in Japan.

For more information, please see:

Asian Tribune – The Rohingya Refugees: Victims of Exploitation – 5 October 2009

Democratic Voice of Burma – Japan ‘should protect’ Burmese Rohingya – 29 October 2009

Human Rights Watch – Japan: Protect Burmese Rohingya Seeking Asylum – 29 October 2009

Human Rights Watch – Joint letter to Japanese Justice Minister and Foreign Minister on Rohingya – 29 October 2009