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Canberrra Times 20.2.14, OLO 23.2.14

The Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, should resign. He is not a fit and proper person to be responsible for vulnerable lives.

Riots at the Manus Island detention camp on 16 and 17 February have seen over seventy asylum seekers injured and at least one killed. From a number of accounts it seems that tension and frustration, leading to anger, gave effect to physical violence on the part of asylum seekers.

The protest on 16 February was apparently contained. However further violence is said to have occurred on 17 February. It is unclear whether this was a continuation of the earlier protest or whether it was instigated by angry locals, including police, fearful at the prospect of disturbances spilling into nearby housing areas.

Apparently Australian staff, including guards, left the scene and played no part in seeking a resolution to the problem.
Most of this information has come from sources other than the Minister and his department. The Minister has confirmed is one death and several people injured. This lack of detail is justified by the government under the blanket ban of information relating to operational security, which under the circumstances is a nonsense excuse for avoiding proper scrutiny.

When the going gets rough the head of so called Operation Sovereign Borders, General Campbell, is pushed to one side while Morrison aggressively seeks to justify the unjustifiable. Campbell is little more than a figure head.

Without any help Morrison has taken the relationship with Indonesia to its lowest point since the mid 1980’s. He understands nothing and listens to no-one. Snowden and the issue of spying have not helped. However intelligence agencies and the governments they work for understand the spying game and the byzantine rules governing operations.

It is the issue of boats and the lies and deception surrounding their return, together with the arrogance of Morrison and Abbott in dealing with the Indonesian governing elite that has caused the rupture, accompanied by deep anger and resentment, which will find expression to Australia’s cost.

Morrison claims success in stopping boats over the past eight weeks or so. We only have his word for that.

The only means by which a sustainable policy can be implemented is in cooperation with the Indonesian government and Morrison has burnt his bridges with respect to that possibility. With elections due shortly in Indonesia he can expect to reap what he has sown from what is likely to be a more hardline and less tolerant government.

Abbott and Morrison have created a vacuum in Australian foreign policy in the region. It should have been Abbott in Jakarta talking about climate change rather than US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Next will be China, if it’s not already buzzing in Javanese ears.

In mid November I wrote, “Implementing policy under a veil of secrecy carries with it risks, big risks if there is a significant stuff up. In a situation of seriously flawed governance with which I was familiar, the white South African government, in their implementation and administration of apartheid, threw a veil of secrecy over political prisoners. When they died in detention, as their treatment was wont to cause, there was a significant domestic and international outcry. Just as there will be when asylum seekers are found to have died in Australian detention camps.”

It did not take long, just three months. The government’s policy is unsustainable. In the long term it will not stop boats taking to the high seas and for all we know it may not be working in the short term. All we have is Morrison’s word that his blunt instrument of Operation Sovereign Borders is working and nothing about the operation to date has built much confidence into his word.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.

Canberra Times 7.2.14, OLO 11.2.14

The previous Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, and the present Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, view the world as they want it to be rather than as it is. Bishop, like her predecessor, has engaged in transparent and clumsy denial in order to please and placate what she likes to term Australia’s friends.

She recently claimed there was nothing illegal about the latest round of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, only to be taken to task by four eminent Israeli lawyers, including a former attorney-general.

Similarly both she and Carr have described Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka as ‘economic migrants’, in order to send them back to Sri Lanka without processing their claims to be refugees; an illegal enterprise under Australian and international law. This ploy was contrived to act as deterrent to other Tamils who might be contemplating flight. To further assist in deterring Tamils from undertaking asylum seeking voyages to Australia, the Australian government recently donated two naval patrol vessels to Sri Lanka.

The Australian government has adopted the fiction that the minority Tamils were the aggressors in the civil war, that the majority Sinhalese won the war, peace has been restored and the surly defeated Tamils must now accept the status quo and get on with life, accepting their position as a minority within mainstream Sinhala society.

That is not the finding of the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka which met in Bremen from 7-10 December 2013. I attended the hearings as an expert witness on Australian treatment of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers. The full findings and decision of the Tribunal can be found at www.ptsrilanka.org.

It found, “On the strength of the evidence presented, the Tribunal reached the consensus ruling that the state of Sri Lanka is guilty of the crime of genocide against Eelam Tamils and that the consequences of the genocide continue to the present day with ongoing acts of genocide against Eelam Tamils.”

The Tribunal identified Eelam Tamils as those living in the north and east of the country.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is an international tribunal, independent of state authority in order to examine violations of human rights. It was founded in 1979 in Bologna, Italy, and now has a permanent secretariat in Rome. The founders included five Nobel Prize winners and experts drawn from 31 countries. It draws on the Russell Tribunals on Vietnam (1966-67).

The Tribunal identified that, “genocidal social practices are not only attempts to destroy individuals. Genocide is an attempt to destroy the identity of a group, alienating it from its experience and history, trying to strip it of the control over its own past, present and future…The recognition that the Tamil people of Sri Lanka were persecuted, harassed and killed not just as individuals but as a group with its own identity, is fundamental in any attempt to confront the genocidal objectives of identity destruction and it is also a way to ratify the right of self-determination of any people.

It is organisation, training, practice, legitimation and consensus that distinguish genocide as a social process from other more spontaneous or less intentional acts of killing and mass destruction….

The construction of the Tamil population as alien to a unitary Sri Lankan state was a long process, which included legal and political decisions…(and) armed conflict…the repressive and discriminatory practices to construct a unitary State in Sri Lanka reached an important turning point in 1956 when the Sinhala language was determined to be the only official language, after which anti-Tamil pogroms took place…”

The Tribunal found that the evidence before them established beyond reasonable doubt that the following acts were committed by the government of Sri Lanka: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and acting with the specific intent of destruction of a protected group. It also found that there was continuity of genocide through ongoing acts of genocide and that the state deliberately inflicted on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

The Tribunal also found that the British and United States governments were complicit in the crime of genocide and reserved judgement on India.

The Tribunal urged international organisations and agencies involved in Sri Lanka to be fully aware and informed of the genocidal process which characterises the situation of Sri Lanka and ensure that their presence, investments and interventions do not support the discriminatory practices of the Sri Lankan government.

The Tribunal declared that it would hold the Sri Lankan government responsible should any harm befall witnesses from Sri Lanka who testified before the Tribunal.

The gift of Australian naval vessels to Sri Lanka, the wilful labelling by Australia of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka as economic migrants and their enforced return to a place of danger, known legally as sur place, (Hathaway, ‘The Law of Refugee Status’, p 33) makes Australia complicit in the crime of genocide. An Australian mental health nurse working on Christmas Island spoke publicly in November 2013 of witnessing this process and the terror of those forced to return.

Lauren Smith, a former Immigration Officer working on Christmas Island, wrote on 30 January, 2014, that, “they were viewed as ‘economic refugees’, the government saw an opportunity to send a strong message: they were not wanted in Australia. A secret process was created: enhanced screening. This denied these asylum seekers access to legal representation and proper protection during interviews. The aim was simply to send them back as quickly as possible.”

Geoffrey Robertson argues, “Where evidence establishes a prime facie case of genocide or torture, the defendant surely has a moral duty to respond: common sense would infer guilt from a defendant’s refusal to explain the blood that the evidence plainly shows to be on his hands.” (Robertson, ‘Crimes Against Humanity’, p 108)

It was while visiting Sri Lanka last year that the Australian Prime Minister said under certain circumstances he believed torture could be justified, demonstrating how far removed he is from the considered findings of the Tribunal.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, retired Diplomat and former Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal.