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