Monday, April 30, 2007

A Just Australia welcomes ALP policy shift on Temporary Protection Visas

A Just Australia reports that "this weekend the Australian Labor Party held their National Policy Conference. Along with other organisations, A Just Australia lobbied hard on ending Temporary Protection Visas and granting work rights to asylum seekers on Bridging Visas. The change to Bridging Visas was something AJA and National Council of Churches worked particularly hard on together - working with Labor for Refugees, traveling to Canberra to lobby key MPs as well as negotiating implementation models directly with the Shadow Minister for Immigration.

We are pleased to tell you that this work paid off, with both amendments being accepted by vote at the conference. See the ALP website for more details, although as of Monday 30th it will be a few days before the new platform is uploaded.

The changes in summary are:

TPV change

Asylum seekers who are independently determined to be refugees under the Migration Act 1958 will be given permanent protection.

BVE Change

Labor recognises that the arbitrary 45 day rule results in legitimate asylum seekers on Bridging Visas being unnecessarily denied the right to work while their claim is being processed. It also prevents immigration officers from denying work rights to frivolous claims within the 45-day period. Labor will work to develop guidelines based on merit so that frivolous or vexatious applications will be denied those rights, instead of applying an arbitrary 45 day time limit.

AJA is seeking more support to address the ongoing concern of Afghan asylum seekers trapped on Lombok in Indonesia. The AJA again:

"...the bad news, and this is why we urgently need you help again, is that the 21 Afghan asylum seekers who are left on Lombok do not have protection status and are now illegal immigrants. The three families (eight children ages ranging from three to 19) and seven single people, are being coerced by IOM and Indonesian officials to return to Afghanistan which is becoming a war zone.

The people are at risk of being arrested by the Indonesian police and are being threatened with quarantine. People who have been in quarantine report a tiny cell with the bare floor to sleep on, starvation rations and an indefinite time, depending on how much money you have to bribe the guards.

Attached is a form letter addressed to Kevin Andrews, the minister for immigration. You are welcome to put your name, date and signature and post it off, or write your own letter. Also, it would be good to write to the federal representative for your electorate and any one you feel may be able to take notice for whatever reason."

Click here to access a form letter to Minister Andrews. As AJA asserts, every letter does count. Please send letters urgently.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Iraq: A deepening refugee crisis

This blog has highlighted the growing Iraqi refugee crisis and the obligations of the invading powers to assist Iraq's neighbours manage the influx humanely. The situation of internally displaced Iraqis is also deteriorating. Once the immediate needs of these people are addressed it is beholden on coalition countries to consider resettlement quotas as part of the menu of options.

Australia's approach to asylum seekers is going to come under more scrutiny. We have participated directly in the events that precipitated this refugee crisis and should be expected to contribute generously to the solution.

Amnesty International has published the following media release:

" Amnesty International welcomes the decision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to convene an international conference on addressing the humanitarian needs of refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq and the region, in Geneva on 17-18 April. The continuing conflict in Iraq has caused some one and a half million Iraqis to become internally displaced and some two million others to become refugees, raising concern of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis not only in Iraq but also in Syria and Jordan as these countries struggle to meet the challenges posed by major influxes of Iraqi refugees. Many governments, including those of Iraq, Jordan, Syria and other states directly affected, as well as the European Union and the USA, will be represented at the conference, which will also be attended by Amnesty International and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

Amnesty International sees the conference as an opportunity for the international community to agree concrete steps to address the needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). These should include: the provision of effective protection for all refugees from Iraq; financial, technical, and in-kind assistance to the governments of Jordan, Iraq and Syria, and to UNHCR, as well as to national and international humanitarian organizations in order to provide vital services, including healthcare and education, to Iraqis in Jordan and Syria.

Over the past 12 months and more hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been forced to flee Iraq and seek refuge in neighbouring countries because of the alarming sectarian and other violence that continues to ravage Iraq, and which has intensified further since armed militants bombed the Sh’ia holy shrine in Samarra’ in February 2006. Most of the refugees have gone to Syria or Jordan, placing great demands on these two countries’ economic and other resources and prompting signs of a growing anti-Iraqi mood among the local population, at least in Jordan. At the same time, around one and a half million other Iraqis have become internally displaced within Iraq.

Between 3 and 14 March 2007 Amnesty International sent a three-person fact finding mission to Jordan to look into the situation of Iraqi refugees in the country. The delegation met with many Iraqi nationals, including asylum seekers, representatives of national and international NGOs and Jordanian government officials, including from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior and Education. It was clear that the Jordanian authorities and many local and international non-governmental groups are making significant efforts to respond to the refugees’ needs but that these are not sufficient in the face of a continuing large inflow of refugees and the likelihood that this will continue while the security situation in Iraq remains so dire

The numbers of people who have fled Iraq are immense and continue to rise. While there are no official statistics publicly available regarding the number of Iraqis living in Jordan, UNHCR estimates that there are around 750,000 to one million. In mid-February 2007 the Jordanian Government announced that it would carry out a survey of Iraqis in Jordan, including those with valid residencies and those without. This is expected to be conducted with the assistance of the Norway-based Institute for Applied International Studies (FAFO).

As of March 2007 Iraqi nationals visiting Jordan do not require visas. Amnesty International delegates were told by officials of the Jordanian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior that the government was considering whether to introduce a visa requirement for Iraqis; however, the government has refuted publicly press reports suggesting that the introduction of such visa requirements is imminent.

In 1998 Jordan and UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allows UNHCR to process asylum applications. According to the MOU, UNHCR must resettle those recognized as refugees within six months of recognition. In practice, however, some recognized refugees who fled Iraq during the period when the country was ruled by Saddam Hussain have been awaiting resettlement for about seven or eight years. Amnesty International was told by Jordanian officials that by the end of 2006 there were 22,000 people registered with UNHCR, the vast majority of whom are Iraqi nationals, and 1,200 recognized refugees, including about 700 Iraqis, awaiting resettlement in third countries.

Some Iraqis interviewed in March 2007 by Amnesty International delegates in Jordan, alleged that a number of Iraqis had been subjected to forcible return from Jordan to Iraq, mostly individuals who were not registered with UNHCR. In one case, for example a group of six or seven Iraqi Shi’a from Samawa were said to have been forcibly returned through the Iraq/Jordan border (Treibeel border crossing) in December 2006. In Iraq, their vehicle was then reportedly forced to stop near al-Ramadi by insurgents, who then beheaded all but one of the occupants. The beheading was apparently video-taped. The one passenger who was left unharmed apparently lied to the assailants and convinced them that he was from al-Adhamiya, a Sunni district in Baghdad.

Jordanian officials at the Ministry of Interior told Amnesty International that those who have overstayed their visas and who are caught by the police are arrested and required to leave the country. They are given the opportunity to choose the country to which they should be sent. The same officials stated that no Iraqis who were considered to be at risk of serious human rights violations in Iraq had been forcibly returned from Jordan.

Amnesty International was told by Iraqis who had recently arrived in Jordan via Amman Airport that most of the other Iraqi passengers who had travelled on the same flights from Baghdad to Amman were denied entry to Jordan and sent back to Iraq by Jordanian officials, although it appeared that they were in possession of proper documentation. Amnesty International was not able to obtain names or other details of those concerned, nor to ascertain what became of them on their return to Iraq, but the organization fears that some of these Iraqis may well have sought to leave Iraq because of well-founded fears for their safety and that their forcible return may have put them at serious risk of human rights abuses by armed groups or others. If so, then their forcible return would constitute a serious breach of Jordan’s international human rights obligations, most particularly, the principle of non-refoulement..

Most Iraqis are in an irregular situation in Jordan. Amnesty International was told that many Iraqis have been arrested by Jordanian police and security forces for overstaying and, sometimes, for working illegally. Those so arrested, often are then forcibly returned to Iraq; in most cases, they are returned to Iraq by land, which is the most dangerous way to travel and places them at risk.

Iraqis’ access to education and health in Jordan is restricted. Foreign students in the country are allowed to attend public and private schools if they are legally resident in the country. However, Iraqis are partly exempted from this regulation; while they are not allowed to attend public schools they can enrol in private schools even if they are not resident. In September 2006 there were about 40,000 foreign students in primary and secondary education in Jordan, out of a total of 1.6 million students in the whole country in both public and private schools. Iraqis made up a quarter of the total number of foreign students, with 7,203 in private schools and 2,662 in public schools. The vast majority of Iraqi families in Jordan are unable to send their children to school because they cannot afford private education. They are also unable to send their children to public schools because they do not have valid residency permits. As a result, a whole generation of Iraqis is being denied a fundamental human right, the right to education.

There are two public hospitals in Amman and around 20 private hospitals. Anyone who wants treatment in the public hospitals has to have residency in the country. Amnesty International was told that Iraqis have access to emergency healthcare regardless of their legal status.

There are health centres that provide care in return for little or no money. Caritas provide health care to Iraqis registered with UNHCR, including those recognized as refugees and are awaiting resettlement. Other NGOs that assist Iraqis in Jordan include the Jordanian Red Crescent Society and Care International.

In meetings with Amnesty International, Jordanian officials expressed concern that the presence of such a large number of Iraqis in Jordan could have serious, destabilising effects. In particular, they were worried that the sectarian violence between Sunni Muslims and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq could yet spill over into Jordan. They indicated too that that the Jordanian authorities are concerned that the Iraqi refugees should not remain permanently in Jordan, but that efforts were needed to bring about a political settlement in Iraq which would enable the refugees to return, not remain in Jordan. They said they favoured the establishment of “safe havens” inside Iraq, rather than encourage Iraqis to try to flee to neighbouring countries. This “safe havens” proposition is one that Amnesty International fully opposes. The creation of such “safe havens” would almost inevitably involve mass scale violations of the principle of non-refoulement and, anyway, is not practicable due to the dire security situation prevailing in Iraq. Further, the Jordanian authorities oppose any local integration of Iraqis in Jordan. For these reasons, they appear to reject any actions that could lead to a long-term settlement of Iraqis in Jordan. However, Amnesty International received some indications that Jordan may accept international assistance under certain conditions, which may include providing more wide-ranging economic assistance to Jordan.

Amnesty International is calling on the international community, in particular the United States (US), the European Union (EU), and other states that have the capacity to do so, to share the responsibility by resettling Iraqis from Jordan and Syria, giving priority to the most vulnerable cases in accordance with UNHCR guidelines on the resettlement of Iraqi refugees. Such resettlement programmes should go far beyond token numbers and should constitute a significant part of the solution to the current crisis. Further, these and other countries must not forcibly return rejected Iraqi asylum seekers to any part of Iraq presently because of the endemic violence in the country.

These countries should also provide financial, technical, and in-kind assistance to the governments of Jordan, Iraq and Syria, and to UNHCR, as well as to national and international humanitarian organizations, in order to provide vital services, including healthcare and education, to Iraqis in Jordan and Syria. Such assistance should be provided as part of an inclusive package that benefits Jordanian and Syrian as well as Iraqi communities to avoid resentment among the populations of Jordan and Syria.

While Amnesty International recognizes that the presence of up to two million Iraqis has placed great demands on Syria’s and Jordan’s resources, the organization, urges the Jordanian and Syrian governments to halt all forcible deportations of Iraqis to Iraq, including those who have not registered with UNHCR, to keep open their borders with Iraq and to desist from turning away any Iraqis fleeing the violence.

Both Jordan and Syria should, at the forthcoming conference, articulate their needs in dealing with the current crisis and inform the international community, especially the US, UK, EU and other states that have the capacity to assist, of such needs. In addition, the Jordanian government should publish as soon as possible the results of the census of the Iraqi population that it has undertaken lately with the assistance of a Norway-based organization.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Human Rights in Australia: Cuban swap deal draws international criticism and UN considers 'monitoring' the arrangement

IPS News reports: "A controversial bilateral deal between Australia and the United States to swap refugees has triggered a storm of protests from human rights activists and legal experts.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), some 90 Sri Lankan and Burmese refugees now held at an Australian-run detention centre on the Pacific island nation of Nauru would be sent to live in the United States.

Australia, in turn, would reciprocate by taking up to 200 Cuban and Haitian refugees held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The deal, announced Wednesday, "is a real low point in the protection of fundamental human rights," says Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

Refugees are human beings; they are not commodities and items of trade. This is absolutely outrageous, he added.

"It appears that officials from these counties have lost all their humanity," Ratner told IPS.

Bill Frelick, HRW's refugee policy director, said the two countries have signed a deal that bargains with lives and flouts international law.

He pointed out that the only conceivable reason for this refugee swap is to deter future asylum seekers from trying to reach the United States or Australia by boat..."

It seems the UN can do little but "...approach the United States and Australia for their consent to dispatch small monitoring teams to ensure that the new arrangement is consistent with international law."

"It is in the interests of both states to demonstrate to the world that refugees under the arrangement are no worse off than they would have been prior to this arrangement... advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in The Hague might be sought to clarify the rights and obligations of states under the Refugee Convention and international law, and specifically whether states are permitted to enter into arrangements such as the present one."

Human rights considerations alone should see this policy binned. The social engineering undertones of a refugee swap are instructive. The political fix under a guise of 'international cooperation' underlines the bizarre symbiosis the Bush and Howard camps have evolved.

It is important that Australians know what is being done in their name. The US is fast garnering a reputation as a dysfunctional world bully, and we're looking more & more like the dumb hanger on.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - A new madness will see Cuban refugees swapped with Pacific Solution victims

Media reports of the new refugee exchange program with the US underline the bizarre nature of the Howard government's refugee policy. The use of aid money to elicit the cooperation of Nauru, which was on the verge of economic collapse at the time of the first PS agreement, to detain asylum seekers was bad enough.

This latest move will be condemned by fair thinking Australians. The PS is bad policy for many reasons. This iteration will further highlight the Howard government's illogical approach to refugee issues. Put aside the ongoing failure to observe international human rights law and refugee conventions, the idea of swapping Cuban refugees with Nauru detention facility incumbents reeks of a political fix on a par with the Hicks' fiasco. It suggests the government considers the ranks of the permanently credulous are still brimming.

It is up there with the plan to excise the whole of Australia from the migration zone on the 'what were they thinking?' meter. The government appears to have lost the plot but the Ministry of silly walks is flourishing.

Doubtless we will see further blatant violations of multilateral agreements on human rights and cruel and unusual punishment meted out to asylum seekers in a bid to shore up flagging political stocks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Australians All - Hicks saga far from over

Australians All have posted articles by Hilary Charlesworth, Director of the Centre for International Governance and Justice at the ANU, and Malcolm Fraser on how politics has overidden the rule of law.

An excerpt of the Charlesworth article follows:

"With the imminent return of David Hicks to a South Australian prison and his release by the new year, we have a resolution of sorts to a divisive national issue. From a legal perspective, the outcome is both mysterious and unsatisfactory from all angles. The plea bargain, providing a 9-month term in an Australian prison, could not satisfy the Australian or US governments, who have insisted for the last five years that Hicks was ‘the worst of the worst’. The curious conditions attached to the sentence are both manifestly political and unenforceable in Australian courts. Hicks’ certification that he was not treated illegally by the US is directly contradicted by his affidavit in citizenship proceedings before the UK courts, which sets out evidence of torture by US officials. The outcome of the Hicks’ plea bargain also cannot satisfy those who have called for a fair and open trial...

...Members of the Australian government who have supported David Hicks’ prosecution under the flawed Military Commissions Act appear to have breached the Australian Criminal Code. The Code defines a war crime to include depriving a person engaged in armed conflict of the rights of a “fair and regular trial”, or aiding, abetting or counselling such a deprivation."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - Villawood hunger strike enters third week


The Refugee Action Coalition of NSW reports a statement signed by ten Villawood hunger strikers has condemned the “unjust situation of detention” and has called for the government to stop forceful removals, limit detention to six months and for the immediate release of two Chinese asylum seekers from incommunicado detention in the Villawood management unit.

The statement, a comprehensive critique of the government’s punitive and adversarial refugee policy accuses the government of using long-term detention to “blackmail” asylum seekers into accepting “wrongful decisions” and coercing people into accepting deportation despite the fact that deportation endangers the safety of asylum seekers.

The hunger strike has been going for fifteen days, and fears that the asylum seekers may suffer long term health damage is mounting. One hunger striker, a diabetic, may already have suffered damage to his eyesight.

He was taken from Villawood for treatment on Good Friday after his eyesight failed but was returned after being told that he should eat. He has continued the hunger strike.

Yesterday, hunger strikers were given a letter signed by Lyn O’Connell, First Assistant Secretary Detention and Offshore Services Division,Immigration Department stating that she understands that the asylum seekers are involved in “voluntary starvation” and urging the hunger strikers to “cease your current action”. The letters also says that the government “does not respond to these actions.”

“We are urging the government to meet with the hunger strikers. No-one is asking for special treatment. In 2005, Chinese asylum seekers were on hunger strike for up to 55 days before their cases were reviewed and subsequently released. The ball is in the Ministers’ court. The incommunicado detention of the two asylum seekers in the Villawood management unit is a gross violation of their human rights regardless of anything else. They should be released immediately. The Minister should stop playing political football with the lives of these asylum seekers,” said Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rohingya refugees from Burma mistreated in Bangladesh

Human Rights Watch reports "Rohingya refugees from Burma living in Bangladesh face an increased risk of mistreatment and are being denied access to necessary humanitarian aid by the Bangladeshi authorities, endangering thousands of civilians and compelling many to seek refuge in nearby countries..."

“The Bangladeshi government is ignoring its obligations to protect Rohingya refugees and permit international relief agencies to assist with the humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This shameful situation has dragged on for many years and is now causing secondary migration flows to countries as far away as Thailand and Malaysia.”

In early March Bangladeshi authorities destroyed a large part of a refugee settlement called “Tal” which housed over 6,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma at Teknaf, south of Cox’s Bazaar, close to the border with Burma. No alternative shelter was provided for the people being displaced.

Refugees in this makeshift camp had been living in a small piece of land close to a main road with limited access to food, social services and international assistance since October 2004, when Bangladeshi authorities had evicted them from rented homes because they classified them as undocumented people from Burma instead of refugees. Bangladeshi authorities shifted part of the “Tal” camp to extend the nearby highway. Large numbers of homes have been destroyed and there is a critical lack of basic services.

Abuses by Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies are reported to be widespread in and around Rohingya refugee camps, including reports of sexual violence against women. In the two official refugee camps of Nayapara and Kutupalong, people are routinely punished for traveling outside the camp to find food or money and often must resort to selling meager rations to corrupt camp officials or outside merchants. Authorities refuse to permit permanent structures to be built in the camps as a way of encouraging refugees to return home. Children are denied access to education. The provision of health services and access to medicines is also limited by the authorities, as are work and livelihood opportunities inside the camp.

Bangladeshi authorities are also limiting access of Rohingya refugees to international aid. Aid groups such as UNHCR and MSF are only permitted to retain low staff levels and limited programs, and are regularly frustrated by local Bangladeshi authorities from instituting projects that make the camps more established and provide regular services.

“The Bangladeshi government should be helping needy refugees instead of making life difficult for them,” said Adams. “It should work with international humanitarian agencies to create safe spaces and basic services for people fleeing persecution in Burma. This is just basic decency.”

Since October 2006, more than 2,000 Rohingyas from Bangladesh and Burma have arrived in nearly 40 fishing boats in southern Thailand, many reportedly trying to make their way to Malaysia. These Rohingya refugees and migrants have been shifted by the Thai authorities from Phang Nga and Ranong provinces in southern Thailand to Mae Sot in Tak province, and then forced into Burma, where they are subject to detention and ill-treatment. On March 10, 67 Rohingya men were forced back into Burma by the Thai military to an area controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a pro-Burmese government armed group. Most of the men have since returned to Thailand. On March 23, Thai authorities arrested another 56 Rohingya men around Mae Sot and deported them to the same DKBA area on March 24.

Under the 1951 Refugees Convention, this constitutes “refoulement,” as the men were forcibly returned to a territory from which they had “a well founded fear of persecution” and to which their return would constitute a threat to their lives and freedom."

The MSF website refers to the rohingyas as "Unwanted and homeless on a small stretch of marshland"[Click here to see the MSF article]. The MSF 2006 Activity Report "revealed high mortality rates and increased malnourishment of small children in a makeshift camp near the town of Teknaf, in the southeastern tip of Bangladesh. The camp is home to more than 5,000 Rohingya refugees - ethnic Muslims who fled neighbouring Myanmar, where they are subjected to widespread repression. The camp is a squalid and crowded stretch of land where people live packed into shelters constructed from wood and small pieces of plastic."

UNHCR reports that after 15 years of stagnation, some improvements have come to Bangladesh camps. However, as the UNHCR 2007 Operations Plan reports, Myanmar remains the largest refugee producing country in the Asian region. The plight of the Rohingyas is one of the most tragic stories of refugee displacement in a terrible pantheon that appears to be getting worse under the new world order.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What do Zimbabwe and the US have in common?

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alex Downer, frequently throws in a dismissive riposte to any journalistic query as to the potential role of the UN in dealing with the rogue regime of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. His line is that members of the UNGA have sided with Mugabe in the past, thereby weakening the UN's capacity to act.

What he doesn't say is that the greatest impediment to 'reform' of UN practices is its "most powerful member state and major paymaster, the US". In reviewing James Traub's account of Kofi Annan's last years in office in the New York Review of Books, Tony Judt exposes the devious game played by the Bush administration and client states like Israel, the Marshall Islands and, strangely enough, Australia:

"...genuine efforts at institutional reform over the course of the past two years were seriously torpedoed by Bolton [ex-American Ambassador to the UN] and his staff, who demanded "massive management reform" but blocked any compromises that might actually achieve it.

In effect, Bolton formed a de facto coalition with states like Zimbabwe, Belarus, and others who have their reasons for keeping the UN ineffective and out of their domestic affairs. And because the US refused to concede an inch in recent negotiations on reform of the Human Rights Council, the establishment of Peace-building Commissions, or a new international disarmament regime, countries that might otherwise have been constrained to give ground (Iran and Pakistan in particular) felt no compunction in rejecting stricter rules on, for example, nonproliferation. The member states (mostly European) that sought ways to trade untrammeled national sovereignty for a more effective international legal regime or a workable set of rules for collective action found themselves in a permanent minority."

Australia has sided with the US in hammering the UN on the need for fundamental reform. Rather than engage constructively in processes to strengthen the only truly global peace building mechanism, Australia sides with the US in undermining the UN's credibility at every turn, thereby becoming a "leading source of the very shortcomings American commentators now deplore."

Its an uncertain bandwagon Australia has climbed on to, and I suspect it will ultimately hurt our long term security interests. It is hard to believe that Australia would have a stake in limiting UN scrutiny of human rights violations and capacity to intervene when governments abuse their citizens or when states fail (especially given our founding role and proud history of supporting UN interventions) but there it is.

Could it be that our Government does'nt like scrutiny of its treatment of our indigenous communities, or is it the abhorrent and absurd Pacific Solution they don't like being looked at too closely? The UNHCR has been critical of the PS strategy, and other UN agencies have called into question human rights issues associated with Aboriginal people and asylum seeker detention.

Its a funny old web we are weaving, and good old Alex Downer can always be relied upon to make us look arrogant, devious and mean-spirited with one of his bombastic one liners. Behind the bombast lies a damaging strategy of devaluing and undermining the UN.

Meanwhile, we remain joined at the hip with a US administration that continues to trumpet unilateralism and to 'render' and torture suspects in the 'war on terror' and that refuses to recognize the virtues of an International Court or the primacy of international law.

As for Mugabe, he has announced he will run for President again next year. Thankfully Bush can't do that..........!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Guantanamo Bay still a human rights vortex

Amnesty reports: "In a deal hammered out over the weekend, Mr Hicks will return home to spend nine months in an Australian prison. A disquieting element of the deal prohibits Mr Hicks from discussing any element of his five year incarceration with the media and a declaration he was never tortured.

"The gag order on David Hicks, preventing him from raising allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, ends any human rights scrutiny of his treatment over the past five years.

"This is particularly concerning in light of the many consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment made by other detainees and former detainees,” said Katie Wood, Amnesty International Australia's Campaign Coordinator.

Amnesty International Australia maintains that irrespective of the conclusion of the ordeal for David Hicks and his family, the military commissions process is unfair.

Amnesty International's observer to the proceedings, Jumana Musa noted that Mr Hicks’ hearing did do not bode well for the 60 to 80 people that the US Government claims it will prosecute under the military commission system.

"The proceedings reaffirm the need to close Guantánamo Bay as a matter of urgency and to end the lawlessness that it has come to symbolise. Governments and institutions around the world have called for the closure of Guantánamo Bay. While it seems that this particular case is winding down, our work is just winding up,” said Ms Musa.

Click here to hear a video message from the Chief Military Defense Counsel about the military commissions.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Hicks case - the political fix is in!

Even the most rusted on Howard lovers must finally get the point that the whole Hicks saga has been a political charade - 'I'll scratch your Iraq itch if you stroke my 'tough on terrorism' plumage'!

In the US there is uproar over the 9 month sentence. So, if you are detained as one of the 'worst of the worst', denied habeas corpus for five years, subjected to a military style kangaroo court that disbarred key members of your legal team and allowed evidence obtained under 'coercion', you can expect a sentence of nine months that sees you out of circulation for the Australian Federal Election, and a gag order that prevents you from talking to the media.

Hmmm...not a good look fellas. But keep telling us about how the Australian Government is modeling good governance and the rule of law for our Pacific neighbours.

Downer has identified three categories of voter response to Hicks, ergo:

""First of all, there have been people who have felt very badly about Hicks and have been very down on him. They say to me when they run into me: 'That bloke should just be strung up'," he said.

"Secondly, there are people who are the mainly anti-American Left who see him as a poster boy, somebody who's been sticking it up the Americans.

"Thirdly, I think - and this is a lot people - they think, well, he doesn't sound as though he's too good but he does deserve his day in court. And I really fall into that third category."

My polemical take on these categories is:

The First category are rusted on Howard lovers, prepared to swallow every propaganda line his government spins because it plays to their political predilections, insecurities, fears and loathings.

The Second category distrusts everything Howard says because of their political leanings and/or an awareness of serial and deliberate disinformation by Howard and his Ministers from Tampa and 'children overboard' to the Iraq war and beyond - all managed as political projects.

The third category are people who believe in fairness and due process, whatever the political implication, and who expect their politicians and the institutions of justice to be transparent, accountable and to act for the common good.

Despite his protestations that he is just a 'balanced guy' in the 3rd category, Downer is a card carrying leader of the First category pack. He had a lead role in demonizing and prejudging Hicks as one of the 'worst of the worst', based on unsafe 'evidence' and political spin.

Methinks, even members of the first category must start to see that the Hicks case has been a corrupt process to achieve political outcomes for Bush and Howard. The apologists who claim the guilty plea puts the lie to concerns about this farcical travesty are either suffering from selective amnesia and/or permanent credulity.