Papua New Guinea Declares Australia’s Manus Island Detention Center Illegal

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — On Tuesday, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that Australia’s practice of detaining asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s (“PNG’s”) Northern Manus Island was illegal and must stop. Refugees and asylum seekers detained on Manus Island under Australia’s off-shore processing system will be allowed to seek hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in compensation.

Depiction of Manus Island, Located Between PNG and Australia. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

There are currently 850 men in the detention center on Manus Island; roughly half have been found to be refugees.

The five-man bench of the court ruled the detention breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution. PNG’s Supreme Court has ordered the PNG and Australian Governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.

Of those currently located on Manus Island, the vast majority of men in the detention center have been found to be refugees. The court ruling said they were seeking asylum in Australia but were forcefully brought into PNG and locked in an Australian-funded center enclosed with razor wire.

In an excerpt released by the court as part of its opinion, the judges ordered: “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 center on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers constitutional and human rights.”

Furthermore, 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.

The camps have been widely condemned and many have called for their closure. Some detainees have been in the camps for more than three years.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said the roughly 850 men being held at the Manus Island detention center will not be brought to Australia. In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Dutton said the legal proceedings did not alter Australia’s border protection policies, which he has said will remain unchanged.

Under Australia’s controversial immigration laws, anyone intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to camps in Nauru and Manus Island. They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia.

Mr. Dutton further stated that refugees at Manus Island could resettle in PNG, and those whose claims for asylum were rejected should return to their country of origin.

For more information, please see:

ABC News (AU) – PNG’s Supreme Court rules detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal – 26 April 2016

BBC News – PNG court rules Australia’s Manus detention centre unconstitutional – 26 April 2016

CNN – Papua New Guinea court rules Australian offshore detention center illegal – 26 April 2016

Reuters – Australia’s asylum seeker detentions on PNG island ruled illegal – 26 April 2016

SBS – Manus Island asylum seekers to sue Australia over illegal detention – 26 April 2016

Sydney Morning Herald – Papua New Guinea court finds Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal – 26 April 2016

The Guardian – Papua New Guinea court rules detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island illegal – 26 April 2016

Australia Announces All Mainland Asylum-Seeking Children Freed from Detention

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

BRISBANE, Australia — Over the weekend, the Australian government confirmed that all the asylum-seeking children that were being held in mainland immigration centers across the country had been released. However, this appears only to be possible as the government has reclassified sections of detention centers as “community detention” in order to be able to claim that all children have been released from immigration detention.

Demonstrators Protest Outside MP Dutton’s Office in Brisbane. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Following a High Court decision earlier this year, approximately 90 children currently in Australia are due to be sent to Nauru.

Under its strict anti-immigration policy, Australia currently detains all asylum seekers arriving by boat, holding them in detention camps in Nauru and New Guinea. Over the past year, as the number of refugees fleeing conflict-hit zones in the Middle East has surged, the Australian government has increasingly faced severe criticism from several human rights groups over the conditions in these detention camps.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton over the weekend in Brisbane told reporters, “Today we have no children of boats in detention, and that is a significant achievement of this government.” “It’s been almost a decade since there were no children in detention,” Dutton added.

Specifically, officials in Australia say the last group of children ranged from a baby to a 17-year-old. According to SBS, Mr. Dutton said the last few children’s cases had been complicated because they involved one parent being subject to a negative security assessment from the national spy agency, but the whole family had been in detention so they wouldn’t be separated.

As for the status of the children, Mr Dutton told the ABC the Government’s policy had not changed in relation to the children, who are currently in Australia either for medical treatment or accompanying a family member to hospital.

“They are all subject to go back to Nauru once medical support has been provided and we’ve been very clear about that,” he said.

Natasha Blucher, from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, expressed doubt and caution over the government’s announcement. “Because of the way the law is set up, because of Australia’s policy, and because of the children’s date of arrival in Australia, they’re not eligible to apply for protection in Australia, so they do remain essentially in limbo until we see a change of legislation and a change of our policy.”

In a report published last February, Australia’s Human Rights Commission said that hundreds of refugee children were suffering from severe mental illness as a result of prolonged detention at these offshore processing camps.

Under its strict anti-immigration policy, Australia currently detains all asylum seekers arriving by boat, holding them in detention camps in Nauru and New Guinea.

 

For more information, please see:

ABC News (AU) – About 90 asylum seeker children in Australia to be returned to Nauru, Peter Dutton confirms – 3 April 2016

BBC News – Australia asylum: Children held on mainland freed – 3 April 2016

IB Times – Australia Says All Asylum-Seeker Children In Mainland Detention Centers Have Been Released – 3 April 2016

NEWS.com (AU) – No more asylum seeker children in Australian detention – 3 April 2016

SBS News – No migrant kids detained on Aust mainland – 3 April 2016

Sky News AU – No asylum seeker children left in detention – 3 April 2016

The Guardian – Asylum seeker children still in detention despite claims all have been released – 2 April 2016

Indonesia Raises Dispute with Chinese Fishing Vessels in South China Sea

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Indonesia on Monday strongly protested the Chinese government and demanded it clarify the actions of a Chinese coast guard vessel that reportedly had contravened law enforcement measures being conducted by Indonesian authorities against a China-flagged boat allegedly committing illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. According to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, the Indonesian government submitted a protest to China’s charge of affairs Sun Weide in Jakarta over the incident in Indonesia’s economic zone near the Natuna islands.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi Addresses the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Foreign Minister Retno said the coast guard ship had disrupted Indonesian authorities who were acting in accordance to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Beginning Saturday evening, the Chinese fishing vessel was stopped for fishing illegally in Indonesia’s waters and was being towed to port when the Chinese took it back, leaving its crew in the hands of Indonesia.

Arrmanatha Nasir, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, stated that Indonesian personnel boarded the Chinese boat, the Kway Fey, took its captain and eight-member crew into custody, and began towing the ship back to a base on the Natuna Islands. But around midnight, he said, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel, which had been following the Indonesian ship, approached it on or inside the 12-nautical-mile line marking Indonesia’s territorial waters, eventually hitting the ship.

According to multiple Indonesian sources, China’s Coast Guard rammed one of the country’s fishing boats to pry it free from the Indonesian authorities. Indonesia decided to release the boat and proceed to shore with the crew.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, called the area where the episode took place traditional Chinese fishing grounds, and said that the Coast Guard vessel had not entered Indonesian territorial waters.

“China immediately requested Indonesia to release the detained Chinese fishermen and ensure their physical safety,” she said at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing. “The sovereignty of the Natunas belongs to Indonesia. China has no objections to this.”

Indonesia’s Marine and Fishery Minister Susi Pudjiastuti however disputed the statements from China, particularly those pertaining to traditional fishing grounds.

“There’s no international treaty which recognizes or admits what’s been claimed by the China government as traditional fishing ground. If there’s such, that’s a one-sided claim and not acknowledged by the international community,” she told reporters.

“We will summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the issue,” the Jakarta Post reported Susi as saying on Sunday. “We respect China, but we must also maintain our sovereignty.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Indonesia protests against Chinese ‘breach of sovereignty’ – 21 March 2016

Bloomberg – Indonesia Detains Chinese Fishermen After S. China Sea Chase – 21 March 2016

Jakarta Post – Indonesia protests against China in South China Sea fishing dispute – 21 March 2016

NY Times – China’s Coast Guard Rams Fishing Boat to Free It From Indonesian Authorities – 21 March 2016

Reuters – Indonesia says it feels peace efforts on South China Sea ‘sabotaged’ – 21 March 2016

Sky News Australia – China, Indonesia in South China Sea row – 21 March 2016

The Guardian – South China Sea: Indonesia summons Chinese ambassador as fishing dispute escalates – 21 March 2016

Australia Illegally Forcing Return of Refugees – Amnesty International

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s record of sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, as well as policies of mandatory detention, boat push-backs and soaring indigenous imprisonment rates have resulted in heavy criticism from Amnesty’s annual human rights report. For example, Amnesty International has found in its report Australia’s boat policy has acted as an example for other countries in the region to force asylum seeker boats back to sea.

Refugees Cramped Aboard One of Many Boats Bound for Australia. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

The Australian High Court has recently declared the nation’s decision of sending 267 asylum seekers to Nauru detention centers as legal.

Australia stuck to the decision in spite of knowing about the harsh living conditions, violence, and abuses reported at the Nauru detention camps. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended his position by saying that the authorities want the nation to have secure borders.

“Our commitment today is simply this: the people smugglers will not prevail over our sovereignty. Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border,” said Turnbull earlier in February.

While global attention was focused on refugees migrating from the Middle East and Africa into Europe, forced migration across south-east Asia remained one of the most prominent rights abuses in the region. In May 2015 as many as 8,000 people were left stranded on boats at sea because south-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia refused to let them land and, in some cases, towed their vessels back to sea.

Amnesty’s Australia national director, Claire Mallinson, said Australia’s policy of turning back boats to their countries of transit or origin was providing an example, and a justification, for other countries to do the same. “Last year we saw Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia refusing to allow boats to land, or towing boats back to sea,” Mallinson said.

Mallinson went on to say, “In essence, what these countries are doing are copying Australia’s bad practice, and this raises real concerns for the region and the world. If you take that policy to its full conclusion, where boats are being stopped from landing, or where countries are closing their borders, then nobody would be safe, nobody could seek protection anywhere.”

“Australia has a proud record of defending human rights,” she said. “It helped form the UN, it helped draft the universal declaration on human rights, but before it can be that constructive player again, it needs to get its own house in order.

The report also condemned Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples, and called on the government to set justice targets to reduce the over-representation of indigenous people in prisons.

For more information, please see:

Australia Network News – Australia Forcing Refugees to Leave? – 24 February 2016

CNN – Refugee crisis: ‘You see walking skeletons’ – 24 February 2016

Sky News Australia – Australia must improve human rights record – 24 February 2016

VICE News – Dozens of Countries Committed War Crimes or Illegally Deported Refugees in 2015 – 24 February 2016

The Guardian – Australia among 30 countries illegally forcing return of refugees, Amnesty says – 23 February 2016

Australia High Court Upholds Offshore Detention For Asylum Seekers

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian High Court on Wednesday dismissed a claim that detention of asylum seekers offshore on Nauru violated the Australian constitution, and upheld its policy to hold refugees at processing centers on the island. In a decision announced in Canberra, the court found the Commonwealth’s conduct was authorized by law and by Section 61 of the Constitution.

Protesters Gather Outside Canberra Wednesday. (Photo Courtesy of IB Times)

The ruling paves the way for more than 250 people, including 37 babies, to be deported to a detention camp on the island.

The plaintiff in the case, a Bangladeshi woman identified only as M68, entered Australia seeking asylum and was classified as an unauthorized maritime arrival before being sent to Nauru. She was returned to Australia due to medical problems, where she gave birth to a child and filed the case to avoid being taken back to Nauru.

But Australia’s High Court ruled that the woman’s detention on Nauru was not unlawful as it had been authorized under Australian migration laws, and that the offshore processing deal with Nauru was valid under the constitution. The Guardian reported that six out of seven judges ruled in the favor of holding the refugees in the offshore processing centers, and ruled that the Australian government detaining the woman was authorized by law.

Chief Justice Robert French wrote, “The detention in custody of an alien, for the purpose of their removal from Australia, did not infringe upon the Constitution because the authority, limited to that purpose, was neither punitive in character nor part of the judicial power of the Commonwealth.”

The detention center on Nauru houses about 500 people and has been widely criticized by the United Nations and human rights agencies for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse.

Daniel Webb, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Center, decried the judgment of the court.

“It is fundamentally wrong to condemn these people to a life in limbo on a tiny island. The stroke of a pen is all that it would take our prime minister or our immigration minister to do the decent thing and let these families stay,” said Webb.

The United Nations Children’s Fund condemned the decision and said, according to the International Business Times, that the ruling “has no bearing on Australia’s moral responsibility or its obligations to protect the rights of children in accordance with international human rights law. It is unreasonable for the Australian government to shift responsibility for this group of children and families with complex needs to a developing state in the region.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended the ruling, saying, “Our commitment today is simply this: the people smugglers will not prevail over our sovereignty. Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border.”

Children born in Australia to non-citizens or parents without legal residency are not entitled to citizenship until after their 10th birthday, and then only if they have lived most of their lives in Australia.

The government has given undertakings that it will give at least 72 hours’ notice before removing any of the asylum seekers involved in the case from Australia.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Australia’s offshore asylum policy ruled legal by High Court – 3 February 2016

DW — Asylum seeker ruling ‘clears way for deportation of Australia-born babies’ – 3 February 2016

IB Times — Australia Slammed For Upholding Policy Of Detaining Refugees On Nauru Island – 3 February 2016

Times of India — Court rules Australia can send asylum seekers to Nauru – 3 February 2016

Reuters — Australian asylum ruling paves way for deportation of infants – 2 February 2016

The Guardian — High court upholds Australia’s right to detain asylum seekers offshore – 2 February 2016

Indonesia To Review Anti-Terror Laws Following Jakarta Attack

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has called for revisions to the country’s anti-terrorism laws after last week’s attacks in the capital, Jakarta. The proposed changes would make it easier for officials to arrest anyone suspected of planning an attack.

Indonesians Stand Guard Near the Cite of the Jakarta Attack on January 14th. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The call for review comes in the wake of last week’s attacks in Jakarta, which were claimed by ISIL.

President Widodo, addressing a high-level security meeting on Tuesday, called for amendments to the country’s anti-terrorism law after ISIL-linked attackers struck last week at the heart of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the most populated Muslim country.

The proposed changes would make it easier for the authorities to arrest anyone whom they believe have a strong indication to be planning a terrorist attack, according to the minister in charge of security, Luhut Panjaitan. The proposed new legislation would also allow officials to hold suspects for longer than a week without charge and would make it illegal for Indonesians to fight with militants of ISIL.

“It’s true that there are some people who feel this won’t be a solution to the problem, but at the very least it will make it easier to get intelligence data and make it harder for terrorists to get space to operate,” said Panjaitan.

Senior officials in Jakarta believe that roughly 500 Indonesians have traveled to the Middle East region to join the ISIL and other militant groups. Nearly 100 are believed to have returned to the Southeast Asian country in recent months.

Security forces would also be permitted to hold suspects for longer without charge, and it would be made illegal for any Indonesian to fight for ISIL, in an effort to dispel fears that those returning could plan further attacks after being radicalized.

Indonesia’s national police chief, Badrodin Haiti, reportedly admitted their current authority is limited. “We can detect, but we can’t take action before any crime is committed. That is the weakness of our regulations. For example, if there are those who came back home from Syria after joining IS, there is no proof of their crime and we can’t take action against them.”

The planned laws have faced opposition from human rights organizations, political figures, and Islamic groups who argue that the proposed laws are too authoritarian in nature and would mark a step back towards the powers that the police once held under the previous Indonesian dictatorship.

It should be noted, however, that all of the major parties have expressed at least some support for the measures, suggesting the proposed laws will most likely be approved by the Indonesian parliament.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Jakarta attacks: President Widodo seeks terror laws review – 19 January 2016

NewEurope — Indonesia’s anti-terrorist law overhaul debated – 19 January 2016

PressTV — Indonesia president seeks terror law review – 19 January 2016

Voice of America — Indonesia’s Widodo Seeks Terror Law Review – 19 January 2016

The World Weekly — Indonesia to strengthen anti-terror laws after Jakarta attacks – 19 January 2016

Bloomberg — Indonesia to Strengthen Anti-Terror Law Following Jakarta Attack – 18 January 2016

Human Trafficking Investigator Seeks Asylum In Australia

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia — Thailand’s top police investigator in charge of human trafficking has fled to Australia, telling Australian media that he feared for his life after his findings implicated influential people who want to silence him. Major General Paween Pongsirin was appointed to investigate trafficking networks within Thailand after the discovery of mass graves at migrant camps earlier this year.

Workers Excavate Suspected Mass Graves in Thailand. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Major General Paween arrived in Australia several days ago on a tourist visa via Singapore, and said he planned to seek asylum.

Thailand has long been a major international hub for human trafficking and people smuggling, with human rights groups accusing Thai officials of turning a blind eye to the multimillion dollar trade. Some have gone even farther, raising questions about the extent of collusion between crime syndicates and the authorities in Thailand.

General Paween was appointed to be chief investigator of a suspected Rohingya trafficking network after at least 30 graves, believed to contain the bodies of trafficked Rohingya, were discovered in May in the southern part of Thailand. The Rohingya, an oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in Myanmar, began to flee the country after clashes with the state’s Buddhist community in 2012.

In October, Major General Paween’s investigation was halted, despite his own pleas that his work was unfinished, with many more suspects at large. Major General Paween said he had faced growing demands from powerful people to suspend his investigation, which featured people in the Thai establishment, including the Army, the Navy, the police, and local and national politicians.

His investigation resulted in more than 150 arrest warrants issued, including for politicians, policemen and military figures.

He was then ordered to move to the deep south, where amid an ongoing insurgency traffickers operate more freely, and where he said he and his family would be at great risk of reprisals.

Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia is considered to be a hotbed of human trafficking.

Paween said he hadn’t planned his escape before leaving Bangkok and as a result finds himself in Australia with little money and facing a lengthy asylum application process. Australia declined to comment on Major General Paween’s possible asylum application.

Trial for 88 suspected human traffickers, including government figures, civilians, police and military officers, will begin next March.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — Thai police trafficking investigator seeks asylum in Australia: media – 11 December 2015

BBC News — Thailand trafficking: Top policeman seeks Australia asylum – 10 December 2015

CNN — Thai human trafficking investigator seeks asylum in Australia – 10 December 2015

Denver Post — Thai trafficking investigator flees to Australia – 10 December 2015

NY Times — Fleeing Thailand, Top Investigator of Human Trafficking Says He Fears for His Safety – 10 December 2015

The Straits Times — Thai cop who implicated officials in human trafficking seeks asylum in Australia – 10 December 2015

Papua New Guinea Facing Domestic Violence Crisis

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — In a report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report, declaring women and girls in Papua New Guinea are enduring brutal attacks from their partners, as government officials neglect survivors’ needs for safety, services, and justice. At the moment, the problem is mainly tackled by NGOs and grassroots activists.

Housing in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Critical interventions for survivors, including protection measures and access to shelters, are not readily accessible or not available at all as a result of enforcement failures.

In 2013, Papua New Guinea passed the Family Protection Act, which set new penalties for family violence and aims to make it easier for victims to get protection orders and services.

Although some services have been established, the law has not been implemented on the ground. The government says that it will not do so until it has finalized enabling regulations, even though this is not required by law.

The 59 page report — Bashed Up: Family Violence in Papua New Guinea — documents systemic failures in how the government responds to domestic violence. These failures often leave women unprotected and subject to ongoing violence, even when they have gone to great lengths to seek help and justice.

While the exact number of women who experience violence at the hands of a partner is unknown, the last comprehensive survey was carried out in 1992; it found that family violence occurred in more than two-thirds of households. The report makes no statistical claims on the prevalence of family violence in the country but does highlight “systemic problems” in addressing the issue.

In particular, the report demonstrated the attitudes and practices of police and prosecutors when handling domestic violence complaints. Human Rights Watch reported police often demand money from victims before they will act or simply ignore cases occurring in rural areas.

Furthermore, police in Papua New Guinea appear reluctant to refer survivors for protection orders, and survivors who seek protection orders frequently encounter delays in the courts. These failures occur even in specialized family violence police units.

When police do get involved, they often seek to resolve the situation not by bringing charges, but instead by counselling the attacker to stop violent abuse, and send the woman home. Police will also choose to counsel the attacker in cases of attempted murder and repeated rape and when the victim does not feel safe returning, does not want to reconcile, and asks for the attacker to be imprisoned.

Human Rights said while the government deserves praise for developing a strategy to handle gender-based violence, including the formation of a human rights commission, many lives are being devastated in the meantime. The report calls on the government to implement family protection legislation, increase public awareness of family violence and ensure the police properly investigates crimes.

The government has yet to respond to the report, which despite its criticisms, does give the authorities some credit for taking initial steps to combat family violence.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Papua New Guinea suffering domestic violence ’emergency’ – 4 November 2015

The Australian — Papua New Guinea’s domestic violence crisis is being ignored – 4 November 2015

Radio New Zealand — PNG govt failing women: Human rights watch – 4 November 2015

Human Rights Watch — Papua New Guinea: Prosecute Domestic Violence – 3 November 2015

Amnesty International Criticizes Australia’s Maritime Migrant Policies

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia — New evidence gathered by Amnesty International suggests that Australia’s maritime border control operations now resemble a lawless venture, with evidence of criminal activity, pay-offs to boat crews and abusive treatment of women, men and children seeking asylum. In its report, Amnesty International says asylum seekers’ lives were put at risk in two incidents in May and July.

Money Reportedly Seized by Indonesian Authorities During the May Incident (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

In response, the Australian government denied the allegations, as it has done since the allegations first emerged in June.

In the first incident in May, 65 passengers and six crew were allegedly intercepted by Australian officials and subsequently turned back to Indonesia. Amnesty International, which says it has interviewed all those on board, claims that officials handed over US$32,000 (£20,900) to the crew.

Passengers were then transferred from their boat to two smaller rickety boats, one of which sank near an island in Indonesian waters. Passengers managed to swim to safety with the help of local fishermen.

The report also speculates that officials may have paid another crew of people smugglers to return to Indonesia in a second incident in July. The report is based on testimony from 15 asylum seekers.

In July, a group of asylum seekers and people smugglers was intercepted by Australian officials and held separately on an Australian vessel for several days, before being put on another boat and told to head for an Indonesian island. The officials allegedly gave two large bags to the smugglers and told the asylum seekers not to open the bags. They also threatened to shoot them if they returned.

Amnesty International Refugee Researcher Anna Shea criticized Australia’s efforts to control its maritime border.

“All of the available evidence points to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime by, in effect, directing a people-smuggling operation, paying a boat crew and then instructing them on exactly what to do and where to land in Indonesia.”

“In the two incidents documented by Amnesty International, Australian officials also put the lives of dozens of people at risk by forcing them onto poorly equipped vessels. When it comes to its treatment of those seeking asylum, Australia is becoming a lawless state,” said Ms. Shea.

In response to the report, Australia’s Ministry for Immigration and Border Protection said to BBC News, “People on intercepted vessels are held lawfully in secure, safe, humane, and appropriate conditions by the personnel of the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF)”.

The country has a controversial policy of zero tolerance towards migrant boats approaching its territory.

No migrants or asylum seekers are allowed to reach Australia’s territories by boat. They have been instead intercepted at sea and turned back or taken to detention facilities in neighboring Pacific countries.

Amnesty International is calling for a Royal Commission to investigate the allegations.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International — Australia: Damning evidence of officials’ involvement in transnational crime uncovered – 28 October 2015

BBC News — Australian officials ‘paid people smugglers’ – Amnesty – 28 October 2015

Deutsche Welle — Amnesty: Australia paid off people smugglers to turn back boats – 28 October 2015

Radio New Zealand — Amnesty accuses Australia over people-smuggling – 28 October 2015

Sydney Morning Herald — Amnesty details brutal consequences of Tony Abbott’s asylum seeker boat turn-back directive – 28 October 2015

Papua New Guinea To Begin Re-Settling Refugees on Manus Island

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — Australia, which has been criticized for its policy of sending asylum seekers to offshore detention centers, has said the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea would begin resettling refugees who are now being held in camps there. The statement did not indicate how many refugees were expected to be resettled in Papua New Guinea, nor did an earlier statement from that country’s foreign minister.

Asylum Seekers at the Manus Island Detention Center in Papua New Guinea. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Australia made a 2013 deal to provide Papua New Guinea with aid if it agreed to house a detention center and resettle refugees.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton welcomed the announcement, saying he would be meeting with the Papua New Guinea government next week to examine the details.

“Consistent with the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA), persons transferred to Papua New Guinea who are found to be refugees will be resettled in Papua New Guinea. No-one will be resettled in Australia,” Mr. Dutton said in a statement. “The Papua New Guinea government has shown its commitment to permit those found to be refugees to get on with their lives and have a fresh start in this dynamic nation with a growing economy.”

Australia’s policies toward migrants who try to reach it by sea have come under increasing criticism from rights groups. The groups say the country’s two offshore detention centers — one on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and the other in Nauru — expose asylum seekers to harsh and unsafe conditions.

Papua New Guinea, which Australia says suffers from a general atmosphere of lawlessness, has not resettled anyone in the three years it has hosted the center and it says those who are resettled will face waits of up to eight years before obtaining citizenship.

Refugees will be eligible to apply for citizenship after eight years, but they may be able to bring their families to Papua New Guinea before then, after they have a job and have established themselves.

No refugees will be settled on Manus, only in other parts of Papua New Guinea. It is understood the vast majority are likely to end up in the capital, and economic hub, Port Moresby.

Advocates have said that conditions could prove difficult for refugees in Papua New Guinea, which has one of the world’s highest crime rates. The capital, Port Moresby, has high unemployment and is often ranked in surveys as one of the world’s least livable cities.

Indeed, many of those held in detention have said they will not accede to resettlement elsewhere in Papua New Guinea. Several dozen have already refused to present their refugee claims to officials.

“I will stay inside the detention center for the rest of my life rather than go to Papua New Guinea,” one refugee told Guardian Australia. “I never ever dream I could have a future in this inferno. Hundreds here, they feel same way like me.”

No refugee transferred to Papua New Guinea by Australia has of yet been resettled in the country.

For more information, please see:

ABC Online — PNG to begin resettling Manus Island refugees – 23 October 2015

BBC News — PNG to resettle Manus Island refugees, Australia says – 23 October 2015

NY Times — Papua New Guinea to Resettle Refugees From Australian Detention Center – 23 October 2015

Reuters — ‘Lawless’ Papua New Guinea says to begin resettling asylum seekers from Australian camp – 23 October 2015

The Guardian — Hundreds of refugees are refusing to settle in PNG’s ‘land of opportunities’ – 23 October 2015

Nauru Eases Detention Center Rules for Asylum Seekers

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

MELBOURNE, Australia — Asylum seekers being held in a controversial center in the South Pacific are to be allowed to roam free, effectively ending their detention. All 600 people at the center on Nauru will be allowed to move around the tiny island nation; they will also have their outstanding applications for asylum processed within the next seven days.

The Nation of Nauru Will Allow Asylum Seekers Free Movement Around the Island. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The surprise decision also came two days before the Australian High Court was due to examine the legality of Australia’s role in the offshore detention.

Successive Australian governments have vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching the mainland. For example, the country has previously turned boats back to Indonesia when it could, and sending those it could not for detention in camps on Nauru and on Manus Island in impoverished Papua New Guinea.

Justice Minister David Adeang issued a statement regarding the recent developments on Nauru and Manus Island Monday,

“The start of detention-free processing is a landmark day for Nauru and represents an even more compassionate program, which was always the intention of our government,” said Mr. Adeang. Mr. Adeang also confirmed that the Australian authorities would “provide support with safety, security and law enforcement.”

Advocates have long criticized Australia’s policy to hold asylum seekers on outlying islands, where they face the risks of violence and long periods in difficult conditions with limited medical care. Last month, an Australian Senate Report found conditions on Nauru were not appropriate or safe for detainees, and urged the government to remove children from the center.

Hugh de Kretser, the executive director of the Human Rights Law Center in Melbourne, Australia, expressed sentiments of both cautious optimism and skepticism.

“It is a welcome development that will provide some relief to the 600 or so people being detained, but it doesn’t address the fundamental injustice of warehousing people on a tiny island nation.”

Mr. de Kretser went on to question the timing of the announcement, which came just days before a hearing at Australia’s High Court on a challenge to the country’s immigration policy filed by the law center.

“We don’t think it’s a coincidence that this announcement is happening three years after the reopening of the detention center and two days before the highest court is considering the lawfulness of offshore detention on Nauru.”

The legal challenge has been brought on behalf of a pregnant woman from Bangladesh who was taken to Australia from the detention center in Nauru for hospital treatment. More than 200 asylum seekers, including 50 children, are also seeking legal protection after being taken to Australia for medical care they could not receive in Nauru and Manus Island.

The harsh conditions at the camps, including reports of systemic child abuse, have been strongly criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups.

An independent U.N. investigator postponed an official visit to Australia last month, citing a lack of government cooperation and “unacceptable” legal restrictions.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Nauru to end detention of asylum seekers – 5 October 2015

NY Times — Nauru Easing Rules for Asylum Seekers at Detention Center Financed by Australia – 5 October 2015

Reuters — Tiny Nauru throws gates open at Australian camp for asylum seekers – 5 October 2015

Sky News — Asylum Seekers Free To Leave Nauru Centre – 5 October 2015

The Guardian — Nauru says it will process remaining 600 refugee claims within a week – 4 October 2015

New Zealand Criticizes Australian Deportation Laws; Hundreds Face Deportation

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia — New Zealand has criticized Australia for detaining and deporting hundreds of New Zealanders under tough new immigration laws, saying the new laws were undermining the historically close ties between the two neighbors. The laws, introduced last year, mean any non-Australian criminal imprisoned for a year or more can have their permit to live in Australia revoked.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Since December, anyone who isn’t an Australian citizen and who has served a sentence of 12 months or more can be deported.

Following revelations that about 300 New Zealanders had been detained in Australia and faced deportation, John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister, accused the Australian government of picking and choosing which citizens it kept.

“There’s people that have often spent their entire lives now in Australia, they went over there when they were very, very, young,” he told Radio New Zealand. “It’s a bit little bit like the Australians saying, ‘well, we’re going to pick and choose, we’re going to keep the ones we like but we’re going to send back the ones we don’t like’.”

About 200 New Zealanders are currently believed to be in detention, including some on a remote offshore center on Christmas Island, following Australia’s decision to allow deportations of all foreign citizens who have served a prison sentence of 12 months or more. About 100 New Zealanders have already been deported from Australia’s jurisdiction.

New Zealand officials can deport foreign citizens who commit crimes but the powers have been used sparingly. About 14 Australians have reportedly been deported in the past four years.

The region has recently come under scrutiny by the international community following multiple reports from distressed New Zealanders over their impending deportation.

Two weeks ago, Junior Togatuki, a 23-year-old New Zealander, took his own life after being detained in a high-security center while awaiting deportation. He had left New Zealand at age four and served a sentence for robbery and assault.

New Zealand last week deported a man from the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati who launched a failed bid to become the world’s first climate change refugee. Ioane Teitiota failed to persuade a court in New Zealand that he should be allowed to stay because rising seas around Kiribati threatened him and his family.

Another imminent deportee, Ricardo Young, 29, has lived in Australia since he was four and his partner and daughter live in Sydney. He is currently on Christmas Island awaiting deportation after serving a two-year prison sentence for aggravated robbery and assault.

Responding to New Zealand’s accusations, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s new prime minister, would meet with Mr. Key to try to resolve the dispute.

For more information, please see:

ABC Online — New Zealand raises deportation of its citizens with Australian Government – 30 September 2015

BBC News — Australia deportation laws criticised by NZ prime minister – 30 September 2015

The Telegraph — New Zealand condemns Australia for mass deportation of Kiwis – 30 September 2015

SKY News — Thousands of Kiwis could be deported – 29 September 2015

Australian Lawmaker Introduces Gay Marriage Bill; Free Vote Blocked

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia — A maverick lawmaker broke from conservative government ranks on Monday to introduce legislation that would legalize gay marriage in Australia. The historic, cross-party bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia is expected to be defeated after Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ruling coalition blocked their respective MPs from having a free vote.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Photo Courtesy of Irish Independent)

The private member’s bill comes amid heated debate among government MPs about whether to change the law or put the matter to a plebiscite.

The government’s official position is that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Warren Entsch, who has been dubbed a progressive redneck by the Australian media, introduced a private member’s bill that would allow same-sex marriage throughout Australia. Entsch conceded that his bill has little chance of reaching a vote, because the ruling coalition decided last week that government lawmakers should be bound by the party line opposing gay marriage.

“A divided nation is what we will be if we continue to allow discrimination in relation to marriage on the basis of a person’s sexuality,” said Entsch.

The opposition party would allow its MPs a free vote on same-sex marriage, and most would be expected to support the bill. The coalition however, is expected to prevent the bill from proceeding to a vote and has already resolved to prevent its MPs being allowed a free vote. Mr. Abbott last week convened a coalition party room meeting on the issue and subsequently announced that the government would oppose any change until the next election but would then support a national vote.

In explaining his rationale, Prime Minister Abbott was quoted by the Irish Independent, saying: “The important thing is that it’s got to be a people’s choice. The decision that came very strongly out of our party room last week was that this should not be the politicians’ decision, it should be the people’s decision, and that’s what will happen in the next term of parliament.”

Several of Mr. Abbott’s Liberal party colleagues attacked the prime minister, saying the party was traditionally in favor of free choice and individual’s rights.

Australia’s Marriage Act specifies marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Officially, the ruling Liberal-National coalition does not support gay marriage. The Opposition Labor party endorses gay marriage, but allows its MPs a conscience vote on legislation.

According to data obtained from BBC World, numerous polls conducted within Australia over the past year show anywhere from 60% to 72% of Australians support gay marriage.

For more information, please see:

Independent — Australian PM shoots down same-sex marriage bill by blocking free vote — 18 August 2015

BBC News — Gay marriage bill introduced to Australian parliament — 17 August 2015

CNN — Australian PM’s gay sister: Marriage equality is a human right — 16 August 2015

NY Times — Australian Government Lawmaker Introduces Gay Marriage Bill — 16 August 2015

Migrants Claim Australia Paid Smugglers to Turn Back

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

MELBOURNE, Australia — Earlier this week, migrants reported to United Nations workers they witnessed an Australian official hand cash to the crew of a people-smuggling boat to take passengers back to Indonesia. Sixty five migrants, including 54 from Sri Lanka, 10 from Bangladesh and one from Myanmar, gave their accounts to employees of the United Nations refugee agency in Indonesia, where they were brought ashore and placed in detention.

Migrants Located on a Boat in the South Indian Ocean. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Geneva, briefly detailed what had been relayed to him by local sources and migrants.

“They are telling us that they were intercepted by Australian officials at sea,” said Baloch. “They were taken on board an Australian customs boat for four days. They were then put on two blue boats and the crews were paid to take them back to Indonesia.”

The allegation of payments to people-smugglers has strained relations between Indonesia and Australia, which has a policy of turning back all migrants who arrive by boat.

Australia has refused to confirm or deny the payment; furthermore, Prime Minister Tony Abbott went on the defensive Friday when asked about the claim. Abbott refused to comment on operational matters, but said that the government “would stop the boats by hook or by crook.”

Prime Minister Abbott also went on to say, “We will do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect our country from people smuggling and from the effects of this evil and damaging trade that costs lives.”

Agus Barnas, spokesman for Indonesia’s coordinating ministry for political, legal and security affairs, said Abbott’s comments could be interpreted by Australian officials as endorsing bribery and might encourage people smuggling.

Indonesia could perhaps take action against Australia under the 2000 United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; at this time, however, such a move is considered unlikely. Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, has demanded a response from the Abbott administration and said she had taken up the issue with Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta.

Relations between Indonesia and Australia remain strained following the execution of two Australian Nationals part of the so-called Bali 9 group of drug smugglers in April. Australia recalled its ambassador from Jakarta following the incident.

On the domestic front, it is unclear whether such a policy would be in breach of Australian law. An Australian political party have written to the Australian Federal Police asking them to investigate what laws have been violated. Experts suggest the alleged policy would be a breach of the provisions of the Criminal Code outlawing people smuggling.

The allegations have arisen amid a humanitarian crisis in which Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and international aid organizations have been trying to manage the exodus of thousands of desperate, ill-treated migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Migrants escaping poverty or oppression typically use Indonesia as a transit point for the perilous journey in often barely seaworthy vessels to Australia.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo News — Migrants say they witnessed Australian payment to boat crew — 17 June 2015

BBC News — Migrant boat allegations cast cloud over Australia — 15 June 2015

CNN — Australia urged to come clean over claims it paid traffickers — 15 June 2015

NY Times — Asian Migrants Say Australia Paid Smugglers to Turn Back — 12 June 2015

Yahoo News — Indonesian official decries Australia PM’s asylum boat stance — 12 June 2015

 

Indonesia Follows Through With the Execution of Drug Smugglers

By Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania 

 

Jakarta, Indonesia

Australian citizens Andrew Chan and Myruran Sukumaran were executed Wednesday in Indonesia by firing squad. Both men were convicted in Indonesian courts and sentenced to death for their membership in the Bali Nine, a drug smuggling group. The executions took place despite strong protests from the Australian government and others in the international community.

The field where the prisoners were executed. (Photo curtesy of news.com.au)

In response to the executions Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recalled the Australian ambassador to Indonesia. Abbott protested the executions saying that they were unnecessary because both men had been rehabilitated after 10 years in Indonesian prison. Abbott went on to say that these executions mark a dark time in Indonesian- Australian relations but he also stated that the relationship between the two countries would be restored.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop protested saying that the executions were against international law. Australia requested that the case be submitted to the International Court of Justice for arbitration however, Indonesia never responded to the Australian appeals. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Indonesia, the death penalty can only be imposed for the most serious crimes. Australia argues that drug trafficking does not rise to the level of a serious crime warranting the death penalty.

The Australian federal government claims that they are now taking the death penalty into account before they tip off foreign agencies to suspected Australian drug smugglers operating abroad. Justice Minister Michael Keenan insists that there are strict guidelines in place that Australian law enforcement officials have to consider the dangers of Australian citizens facing execution abroad.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo claims that the execution of the Australian citizens was not a political issue. He stated to reporters that it was an issue of Indonesian legal sovereignty and that Indonesian sovereignty must be respected. The President has imposed the death penalty in drug smuggling cases because of the significant toll drugs are taking on Indonesian society.

Five other foreign nationals were executed in Indonesia on drug smuggling convictions along with the two Australians. Among them were four Nigerian nationals and one Brazilian National. A second Brazilian is scheduled for execution this year and the Brazilian ambassador to Indonesia has also been recalled to Brazil for consultations. A Filipino women was also scheduled to be executed with the others but was spared a the last minute, no reason has been given by Indonesian authorities but it is suspected that there have been developments in her case.

For more information, please see: 

CNN — Australia Recalls Ambassador After Indonesia Executes Prisoners — 29 April, 2015 

The Sydney Morning Herald — Chan and Sukumaran Execution ‘Illegal’, but Indonesia Ignores Australia Again — 2 May, 2015

news.com.au — Bali Nine: Indonesia Says Executions of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran were ‘Perfect’ — 1 May, 2015

Yahoo News — Bodies of Australians Executed in Indonesia Arrive Home: Reports — 1 May, 2015