Saturday, 30 June 2018

Julian Burnside: Every Immigration Minister since 2002 is guilty of human rights abuses

Source thebigsmokes, 29 June

We need to recognise that the human rights abuses of asylum seekers is our nation’s awful legacy, and Julian Burnside knows who is to blame.

The Norwegian freighter MV Tampa entered Australian waters on 29 August 2001, carrying 433 asylum seekers who’d been stranded in a fishing boat in the Indian Ocean. The vessel crossed the maritime boundary close to Christmas Island, despite having been refused entry by Australia. After a period of being detained at sea, most of the asylum seekers were eventually taken to Nauru. It was then Prime Minister John Howard who gave the order to prevent the ship from entering Australian territory. And over the following weeks, the nation’s harsh policy of turning back the boats and mandatory offshore detention was first implemented.

Guilty of domestic crimes

Julian Burnside QC argues that Australian politicians continue to commit major crimes due to their treatment of asylum seekers.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. Australia is a signatory member of the international court.
The treaty that governs the court, the Rome Statute, entered into force in Australia in September 2002. This led to the compulsory establishment of similar crimes under Commonwealth law. And it is these domestic laws that Mr Burnside believes certain Australian politicians have transgressed.
The lawyer outlines his proposition in his recently released documentary Border Politics, which is currently being screened around the country.
Last month, he warned that current Turnbull government initiatives are leading the nation “downhill all the way to an Orwellian nightmare.”
Mr Burnside pointed to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s proposal to expand the powers of the Australian federal police (AFP) at airports as one such move. It will allow officers to inspect IDs without having a reasonable suspicion that an individual is involved in any criminal activity.

Firstly, Mr Burnside, you argue in your documentary, Border Politics, that Australian politicians have been benefiting by stoking the general public’s fear of asylum seekers. Can you outline how these politicians utilise this fear and in what ways it works for them?

It started with Tampa. North J’s judgment in the Tampa litigation was handed down in Melbourne at 2.15pm on September 11, 2001 – just eight or nine hours before the attack on America.
Suddenly, all Muslims were terrorists and boat people were “illegals”. Tampa was Howard’s last-ditch attempt to save his government. And because of 9/11 he stormed back in the November 2001 elections.
Since then, the Coalition have continued to call boat people “illegal” and Labor have never contradicted the lie. They have both profited from their dishonesty about refugees.

There are currently around 750 asylum seekers being held in detention and transit centres on Nauru and Manus Island. The Australian government is hoping the US deal will lead to most of these people being resettled in the States, which is highly unlikely. And Turnbull refuses to accept an offer from New Zealand to settle 150 of the men on Manus. In your opinion, what does the government’s treatment of these people amount to?

It amounts to torture. And it is certainly a breach of our obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Statute of Rome, the Torture Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In addition, it involves numerous offences – by our government ministers – against Australia’s Commonwealth Criminal Code. The Australian Criminal Code now recognises various acts as constituting crimes against humanity.
One of them, section 268.12, is of particular significance in the present context. Section 268.12 creates a “Crime against humanity – imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty”.
The elements of this offence are relatively simple:
  1. The perpetrator imprisons one or more persons;
  2. That conduct violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  3. The conduct is committed knowingly as part of a systematic attack directed against a civilian population.
The penalty is 17 years imprisonment. It is a very serious crime.
Australia’s system of mandatory, indefinite detention appears to satisfy each of the elements of that offence, as does the Pacific Solution.
We imprison asylum seekers. That conduct is intentional, and is part of a systematic attack directed against those who try to seek asylum in Australia without receiving prior permission.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that the mandatory detention system violates Article 9 of the ICCPR.
A representative of the International Criminal Court has expressed privately the view that asylum seekers as a group can readily be regarded as “a civilian population”.
By our own legislative standards, our mandatory detention system amounts to a serious crime against humanity.

You’ve just pointed out that certain Australian politicians are guilty of crimes under Australian laws, which were prompted by our nation’s ratification of the ICC’s Rome Statute. Which politicians are you referring to?

Every Prime Minister and Immigration Minister since October 2002 – with the possible exception of Chris Evans – for crimes against humanity, under section 268.12.
The regime of offshore detention does not take them outside the reach of section 268.12.

The Turnbull government announced last month that AFP officers are to be given the power to request the ID of anyone at an Australian airport, without having reasonable grounds to suspect they’re involved in any criminal activity. Officers can also eject these individuals from the airport. The prime minister stated that “dangerous times” justify such measures. You’ve spoken out against this new proposal. What do you think the implications of expanding the powers of the AFP in this manner are?

Eroding accepted standards by very small steps is a threat to all of us.
Remember the dictum of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —  because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —  because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

You’ve also raised concerns over the government’s planned National Facial Biometric Matching Capability, which is a system that will allow for the real-time matching of images taken from CCTV footage with all Australian citizens’ identification photos that are stored in various databases around the country. What do you believe are the dangers of having such an all-pervasive system like this operating?

It would amount to having plain-clothed policemen in every street, watching out for specific individuals who are of interest to the government for one reason or another.
Every CCTV camera would be capable of identifying every person seen by them. And the fact that you are walking down Collins Street on Friday morning could be linked to all the information government has about you: Medicare information, ticket information, Centrelink information, etc.

In your 2017 book Watching Out, you stated that while the legal system is designed to bring about justice, it doesn’t always do so. You also argue that an Australian bill of rights would seek to better establish justice in this country, as well as protect Australians against infringements upon their basic rights. Can you explain how a bill of rights would achieve these outcomes?

It depends on whether it is a statutory or a constitutional bill of rights. But, the essential point about a bill of rights is that it is a parliamentary document that identifies rights which are generally accepted as fundamentally important to us as human beings.
So, which of these values should not be respected by our parliament?
  • Recognition and equality before the law;
  • Right to life;
  • Protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;
  • Freedom from forced work;
  • Freedom of movement;
  • Privacy and reputation;
  • Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief;
  • Freedom of expression;
  • Peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
It is surprising how many of these uncontroversial rights are infringed by our federal parliament, simply because some people are not regarded as worth protecting.

And lastly, Mr Burnside, you’ve been working at the frontline of a range of human rights issues since the 1990s. How do you see the political climate developing from here in this country? Will Australian governments continue to build bigger walls, or will the public take a stand against this increasingly repressive process?

It depends on whether the parliament continues on its path of small, incremental erosions of our rights, or blunders the way the Trump administration did, when it started taking kids from asylum seekers and putting them in cages, while the parents were returned to their country of origin.
It is very clear that governments can do whatever they want to people who are feared or hated. And it is clear that governments have the power to induce the public to fear and hate a particular group.
Consider how the public at large have been induced to fear and hate Muslims. Consider the parallels with antisemitism in Germany in the 1920s to the 1940s.
I hope we will wake up sooner, rather than later. But, a great deal depends on whether the Opposition learns that its job is to oppose, which is not the same as sniping from the sidelines on trifling issues.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Sky News uncovers evidence of second genocidal campaign in Myanmar

Source Sky News click here,
Tuesday 05 June 2018
Sky News has uncovered evidence the Burmese military is targeting the mainly Christian Kachin people5:11
Video:A Sky News investigation has uncovered evidence that the Burmese military is targeting another ethnic minority in Myanmar.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Communities Meeting with Department of Home Affairs

by Admin, 

A meeting for Humanitarian Program Consultation & Humanitarian Intl Protection Policy Section, has been successfully organized by Australian Department of Home Affairs on 15 May, between 12:00pm and 2.30pm.

The home affairs minister Peter Dutton MP has met friendly with all representatives from AMES, Red Cross, Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Islamic Council of Victoria, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, Foundation House, and many others.

Habib (founder and spokesperson for ABRO) has praised Australian government's 31.5 million dollar contribution in response to Rohingya crisis and raised briefly the following issues in the meeting: 

1) political interferences including visa bans on military generals and their family members, boycotting their investments.
2) sharing an equal number of Rohingya refugees intake.
3) identities verification process, delaying visa processing and rethink of TPVs and SHEVs.
4) barrier substances of integration and contribution into Australia, the needs of prior job traning and skills.
5) immigration values and Australia international obligations..

After the meeting, Habib passed a copy of his recent book- 'first they erased our name' and also said the Australia intake to include Rohingya has been strongly quoted by Parsuram Sharma-LuitalJP, Brotherhoof of St. laurence, Chin, Karen Kareni leaders.

Myanmar’s Killing Fields

Source SBS, 15 May

A special investigation into the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. We examine evidence that Myanmar’s security forces used systematic rape and terror tactics to expel hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from the country.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - 21:30
Since security forces began a violent campaign in August 2017, up to 700,000 people have fled their homes to travel across the Myanmar border to nearby Bangladesh.
Thousands of civilians, including children, are thought to have been killed, in a story of systematic discrimination, state-sanctioned violence and, ultimately, mass murder.
In this special hour-long Dateline film, reporter Evan Williams hears first-hand about brutal killings and attacks on Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya Muslim population - and looks at whether Myanmar’s leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, should be held accountable for these atrocities.
“She had gone from a human rights heroine, a beacon of democracy, to a politician catering to the military, wanting the military to support her,” says former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson.
Aung San Suu Kyi rejects the criticism and says that the military is simply hunting terrorists, but a network of Rohingya activists were secretly filming what was really happening, risking their lives in the process.
Their ground breaking accounts of video evidence of several unknown massacres, provides Dateline with the first proper look at whether the killing of civilians could be genocide.
Watch the full story at the top of the page.
What is Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy?
These aid agencies are operating in Myanmar, to assist Rohingya refugees:


Faces of the Rohingya

Source SBS,

Across the road from Springvale train station, about 20 kilometres southeast of Melbourne’s CBD, there is an unmarked café—the Rohingya Bazaar.

Along one wall, shelves are stacked with produce from Myanmar—biscuits, rice, noodles, spices and sauces. There are few customers but they stay a long time, sitting on the orange plastic chairs and talking at the long row of tables in the middle of the shop, or charging their phones at the tables by the other wall. People order coffee with condensed milk, or a plate of rice with curries from the bain-marie. Young men step outside for a cigarette and then return. One man has the remote control for the TV and chooses a string of Taylor Swift video clips from YouTube.
"We’re the most unwanted community in the world".
Shawfikul Islam comes in, wearing double denim and a backwards baseball cap. He arranged to meet here, but he’s late because he has been at the police station, helping interpret for two men who were in a dispute. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar—although the country’s government refuses to use the word ‘Rohingya’, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Shawfikul explains that there are 500 Rohingya in Melbourne—mostly living in Springvale—and about 3000 in Australia. Mainly, they are young men like him. “For Rohingya boys growing up, the dream is to escape,” he explains. “We’re the most unwanted community in the world.”
Shawfikul begins to introduce people in the community, starting with Kabir, the owner of the café.
Kabir Ahmed is 44 years old. He is slim, clean-shaven and fresh-faced. He took over the premises at the start of the year and intends to make a sign as soon as he can, but he’s very busy: the café is open from 9 am to 10 pm every day. Kabir has eight children, including two sets of twin boys. Several of them squeal around the café while he stands beneath a low fluorescent light at the counter, or sits with his customers, or disappears to run errands. His youngest daughter was born in Australia, after everyone arrived by boat from Malaysia in 2013. Kabir is waiting and hoping for a visa that will allow his family a pathway to permanent residency. “I had no work rights in Malaysia,” he says. “In Australia, I have support.”
The monsoon is troubling many people we meet at the café.
When Kabir was a teenager, he fled from Rakhine State—the coastal province in Myanmar where most Rohingya have lived for generations—and into Bangladesh, but five years later he was repatriated by force. It still wasn’t safe, so he fled again. Last year, he says, his aunt and nephew were shot and killed by the military. Kabir’s brothers and sisters escaped to Cox’s Bazar in south-eastern Bangladesh. About one million Rohingya live there now, in over a dozen makeshift refugee camps. Ahmed is worried about how his family will cope as the monsoon season begins. The monsoon is troubling many people we meet at the café. The first rains have begun, but the heaviest falls will come from June to September—during these months alone, the region averages more than five times Melbourne’s annual rainfall.
Ash Ashrafalie started work this morning at 7 am at a lettuce and herb farm on Melbourne’s outskirts. When he finished, he came to the café. At the farm, he labours in the fields—picking, cutting and bunching leaves—and he enjoys the work. His father was a farmer too. Ash grew up in Rakhine State, where they would grow vegetables or rice, or go fishing, depending on the season. Since late last year, he has been working six days a week so he can support wife and three of his siblings, and their families, who are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. One of his sisters fled from Myanmar last year when her village was attacked—she is among the estimated 700,000 Rohingya who have crossed the border since August. “Her baby was 14 days old, but she wasn’t able to take her baby. She couldn’t manage to… she couldn’t...” he says, trailing off. He is stony-faced. The baby died in the fire as her house burnt down. His cousin and his uncle died too.
He does not know how his family will survive the coming months. Cyclone Mora hit the district on May 30 last year, killing at least seven people and destroying or damaging over 50,000 houses. Since then, the camps have quadrupled in size and large areas of forest have been cleared, as people seek land and firewood. The hills are now bare; there will be landslides and flash floods and water-borne diseases. “I am doing what I can,” Ash says. “It is up to God.”
He has not seen his wife since 2007, but they speak every day. She gave birth to their child after he’d fled to Thailand, but the baby became sick and died. He says his wife was not permitted to leave their village to visit a doctor for the boy. Ash maintains strong eye contact as he speaks—he is determined that his situation be understood. His parents died after he left too and he could not go to their funerals.
Setara Begum is in the kitchen, making samosas, her blue apron protecting a sparkly silver jumper. She is 39 years old and she has been married to Kabir, who owns the café, since 1994. Their marriage was arranged by their parents in Myanmar. Their youngest daughter—the one who was born in Australia—hasn’t yet started school, but their eldest two children are already married with three kids of their own. Setara works looking after the family and she never has time to relax—she laughs at the thought of relaxation, when I ask. But she does like going to Chelsea beach on Port Phillip Bay with a picnic, because the kids enjoy running on the sand. She helps Kabir at Rohingya Bazaar when she can. “I feel happy about the café,” she says. “Not only about the business, but also because the community has a place to share.”
Setara’s mother and sisters are still in Myanmar, and her other sisters are in Bangladesh—she speaks with them as often as the patchy phone network will allow. “They are still scared,” she says, “scared of burning houses, scared for their lives.” They are not alone in their fear. A UN report about the violence in 2017 stated that “the widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral” to the military’s strategy. “Violence was visited upon women, including pregnant women, who are seen as custodians and propagators of ethnic identity.”
When she was growing up in Rakhine State, Setara didn’t get to go to school, but now she goes to English classes once or twice a week. Rohingya are stateless—in 1982 the Myanmar government passed a law to deny them citizenship. Without those papers, they have no rights to education or health services, and they’re not free to travel outside their villages. Recently, Setara’s young sons told her they want to be doctors, engineers and teachers. “The environment is not like that in Myanmar. You don’t have a chance to dream like that,” she says.
Anwar Ibrahim was one when his parents escaped from Myanmar to Bangladesh and he spent four years there in a refugee camp. Then the family was smuggled by boat to Malaysia, where they lived without rights to work or access to education and healthcare. When Anwar was fourteen, he boarded a small boat from Indonesia to Christmas Island. He was alone. “The waves were as big as a mountain,” he recalls. At the time, he spoke Rohingya, Malaysian and Bengali, but not English. He had always wanted to go to school and, finally, after he was released from Australian immigration detention, he started year nine. Last year, proud and relieved to successfully complete year 12, he remembered his first exam: “I was in tears, because I didn’t have any clue about maths. I couldn’t complete the tasks.”
Now, he’s 19 years old, fresh out of school, studying sports and recreation at TAFE, working at a sports centre and playing on the left wing for White Star Dandenong soccer club. “I really want to be in this country. This is where I belong," he says. Anwar’s parents and four younger brothers remain in Malaysia, but because he is on a bridging visa, he cannot travel to visit them. They speak every weekend. He also has relatives in Rakhine State. In the violence last year, some of them escaped, some got stuck, and some got killed. “I don’t want to think about it, because when I do, I can’t focus, I can’t study. Sport gives me a way to pass the time.”
Jumabi Mohamad Ali sometimes goes to Rohingya Bazaar for a meal with her husband, Ali Sharif, when she is too tired to cook. It’s the place to get the food she loves. “Everything is curry. Spicy curry,” she says, warmly. In the bain-marie, there are two kinds of fish and chicken curries, but the beef is the hottest of all. Jumabi is 28 years old. Her children are 14, 12 and 10. She was born in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, and grew up in Malaysia, where her family fled after her father was murdered by Buddhist extremists. Her mother had seven children to support, so she worked illegally seven days a week, cleaning and cooking for other families—she still does. Jumabi and her siblings had to work too.
Jumabi has had two lives: one ended on the boat; another one began in Australia.
Jumabi has nightmares about the sea. She’s had two lives, she says: one ended on the boat; another one began in Australia. She opens a folder to show off a sheath of laminated certificates, detailing the volunteering she has done and the courses she has completed since she arrived in Melbourne in 2013. At a women’s centre she learnt embroidery—she stitched colourful maps of Australia and Burma side-by-side and hung them on her wall. She began volunteering at Springvale Rise Primary School in 2016, and a year later, she started working there full time as a multicultural educator, running playgroups and supporting teachers. On Mondays and Tuesdays after work, she goes to English class. “When my mum called and I told her I found a job here, she couldn’t believe it,” Jumabi says. “Sometimes she cries. She says, ‘My daughter is very lucky.’”
Every day of my life I think, ‘How can I be with them?
Abdul Rohim begins to cry when he mentions his family. He will turn 50 this year, but it is more than a decade since he saw his wife, daughter and son. They have been held in an internment camp in southern Rakhine State since 2012 and they are not allowed to leave. His wife is very ill, he says, but there is no medical care. Eight families are crowded into a bamboo shelter. He is always homesick, but he cannot return. “Every day of my life I think, ‘How can I be with them?’ My head feels like it is boiling,” he says, taking off his cap and pointing at the peak of his forehead. “I go to the wall and hit my head and cry. I try not to think, but the next day it comes to my mind again.”
It was his big dream that one day he would educate his children. For now at least, they are going to school. Whenever he speaks to them, he always asks what they are learning. “My daughter is very good at studying—she likes chemistry. But I am worried for their future. I am far away, and I am getting older.”
Abdul comes to the café nearly every day. He meets friends and speaks in Rohingya. “It makes me feel better,” he says. In Rakhine State, he was a fisherman. He hasn’t been fishing in Melbourne, but when he was held in immigration detention near Weipa, on Cape York, he was given permission to go fishing three times.
Rehana Rafique was born in Malaysia, where her parents had fled years earlier. She has never been to Myanmar, but her parents always say it’s beautiful. “My dad told me he had a big house there. They were rich—like, normal rich,” she says. In Malaysia, ten people lived in their small rented house, and Rehana remembers always doing chores: helping her aunts with cleaning and her dad with selling fruit. Malaysia hasn’t signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, so the family lived at risk of arrest or deportation.
Rehana and her family arrived in Australia by boat in 2012, just before the Labor government re-opened the offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. Many people who came after them remain offshore, but they were held in Darwin for only one month. Now 19, Rehana was 13 years old and she loved detention—you could play with other kids all the time and there was no housework. When an immigration officer asked what career she wanted, she replied: “I want to become like you”. She intends to stick to her word. She finished high school last year and is studying a diploma of justice at TAFE. Rehana had never been to school before she arrived in Australia. “My first year, I just stayed quiet,” she says. “Now my friends say ‘Shut up Rehana—you talk too much!’”
Every Friday for two years she has volunteered at Springvale Neighbourhood House, using her six languages—besides English—to support and interpret for other women in the suburb. Often, the women are dealing with family violence. She is also helping Victoria Police develop a mobile app for the Rohingya community, with audio recordings that provide information about social services. The illiteracy rate among Rohingya is estimated to be 80 per cent, and even higher among women.
Each day after class, Rehana is expected to return home by 4 pm. Parties are out of the question. “My parents don’t like it when girls go outside. They say it’s rude,” she explains. Many of her friends are already married. “I tell my parents I’m too young and I have to study more.”
Shawfikul Islam had ducked out for a little while between interviews, but he returns and signals to Kabir for a coffee. When it arrives, he stirs the condensed milk from the bottom of the cup and talks about himself, quietly.
When he was eight years old, he moved with his family from Rakhine State to Yangon. He had to travel in disguise, wearing thanaka on his cheeks—a white makeup common for women and children in Myanmar—with a Buddhist friend who pretended to be his father. At that time, Shawfikul explains, middle-class Rohingya families could live safely in the capital by bribing their way out of problems. He was able to go to school and university, but he had a habit of talking back against slurs and discrimination. “I was always in trouble,” he says. Eventually, following a serious dispute, he had to leave and seek asylum. Now, he is 31 years old and he’s been in Australia for five years, but his wife and 6-year-old son and his parents and siblings remain in Myanmar. His grandmother is in a refugee camp in Bangladesh; a few months ago they spoke by video call. “I couldn’t control my tears,” he says. “I don’t make video calls anymore.”
We can’t wait for solutions to be given to us, we have to build ourselves up.
In Melbourne, Shawfikul heard about Rohingya labourers who were being paid poorly, so he contacted the National Union of Workers to see if it could help. Now he works for the union, organising farm and poultry workers like Ash to demand their rights. Shawfikul uses his spare time, and his English, to assist the community however he can. It keeps him occupied. Sometimes, after translating for these interviews, he fell silent—people’s suffering is too heavy and he cannot carry his own grief. This week he took three days off work, to try to cope. But his father always helped people in need and he is trying to follow his father’s example. “Wherever you go, if you say you’re Rohingya, you will be looked upon as a victim. This has been going on for generations,” he says. “We can’t wait for solutions to be given to us, we have to build ourselves up.”
Here in Australia, Shawfikul sees that the Rohingya community has real opportunities. And even in Bangladesh he believes that if only ten people in a hundred can get educated, then they, in turn, can educate hundreds. “It will take decades, but I have hope and confidence that we will be looked upon as human—just like the next person.”