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.

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