Archive for category Pacific
It’s called Operation Sovereign Borders. “It will steadily be put into effect and I am confident we can stop the boats,” says Major General Angus Campbell, who will be running the new operation. Recently promoted to a three-star general, the military leader had previously served in Australia’s forces in the Middle East and East Timor.
It sounds like a dangerous military operation. They’re trying to “stop the boats,” like an impending invasion. But it’s not. Full of military language and coded with imagery of the shores of Australia being overwhelmed, Operation Sovereign Borders is the new Coalition government’s plan to divert boats of migrants and asylum seekers from ever stepping foot on Australian soil.
“If the government is successful in doing this, then conceivably there will eventually be no asylum seekers in the Australian mainland, and the mainland detention facilities will close, and we won’t provide counselling to asylum seekers,” says Bowen Summerton, Asylum Seeker Services Coordinator at Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS). ASeTTS, an IRCT member in Perth, Western Australia, currently has access to provide counselling and other mental health services for asylum seekers in detention in the region. However, with a different government and policy, this may change – an extremely worrying situation for torture survivors who seek asylum in Australia.
Asylum seekers and refugees are clearly a fraught issue in Australia. So much so that many have claimed the recent election of opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose campaign slogans echoed the “stop the boats” rhetoric, was as much about tax and political infighting as it was a referendum on the current immigration policies. More than 17,000 people arrived by boat in 2012, the majority from Iran, Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka. This was up from around 4,500 the previous year.
Currently, all people who are unauthorized to be in Australia – whether arriving by plane, overstaying visas or coming by boat – are detained. Previously, there were some exceptions, namely the health of asylum seekers.
“Long term detention is significantly correlated with poor mental health outcomes regardless of a background history of torture and trauma,” says Bowen. ASeTTS has access to the three immigration detention centres in the Western Cape, of the total of eight in the Australian mainland, and alternative and community detention in the region. For those victims of torture in detention, they can provide counselling and, depending on needs, access to a psychiatrist.
Research strongly suggests that detention of asylum seekers greatly worsens health, particularly mental health, with many reporting systems of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These are common psychological effects of torture, which are also greatly exacerbated in detention settings.
“Assisting recovery from torture and trauma is generally more difficult in detention, regardless of the length of time, because of the environment, which can counteract attempts to restore safety, meaning and dignity,” he says.
However, despite the risks of trauma and the health needs of asylum seekers, the new government has promised to end the exceptions. All unauthorized immigrants will be detained, many of them in the off-shore detention and processing facilities in Christmas Island, a territory of Australia, Nauru, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, or Papua New Guinea.
It’s far too politically easy to say simply “stop the boats,” backed by military might. Rather than quick slogans and three-star generals, Australia needs to assume the more difficult responsibility to international human rights obligations. As the Australian Human Rights Commission describes, “The Australian Government has obligations under various international treaties to ensure that their human rights are respected and protected… These rights include the right not to be arbitrarily detained.”
Asylum seekers need to be screened for traumas, such as previous cases of torture, to ensure that they are both, not detained, but importantly, given access to appropriate care and treatment as soon as possible.
By Tessa, Communications Officer at IRCT
When the heart attack came on 3 December 2006, Augusto Pinochet probably feared the worst. At 91-years-old he must have known this was the end of a controversial, turbulent life.
But what were his last thoughts as he lay in on his deathbed: regret, remorse, sorrow?
One hopes something was felt for the thousands of helpless Chileans who suffered from Pinochet’s brutal 17-year rule of the country.
Yet the fact still remains that the truth surrounding Pinochet and his rule was never discovered.
He died on the 10 December 2006 with over 300 crimes still against him, ranging from human rights abuses to embezzlement and tax violations.
Rather than celebrating his death or the passing of the oppressive regime, the Chilean people instead commemorate the 11 September each year – the date which, in 1973, saw Pinochet come to power via the violent military coup.
This year marks 40 years since the coup and is a special reminder about how far Chile has come as a nation and, perhaps, how far is still left to go.
A great divide
The rule of Pinochet is a topic which still splits some Chileans. The opposition to Pinochet use the 11 September anniversary to reflect upon the torture and inhumane treatment of up to 40,000 Chileans, and use the day as an opportunity to establish the truth from Pinochet’s dark regime.
According to former President and running presidential candidate for this years’ elections, Michelle Bachelet, the point of the 11 September anniversary to reopen the “painful wounds” of Chiles’ past, not to victimise people or governments, but “to get to know the truth.”
On the other hand there are people who, while agreeing with others in the denouncement of Pinochet’s reign, were once supporters of Pinochet and feel that the military coup was inevitable and any human rights violations were merely expansions upon the crimes committed by Pinochet’s predecessor, the left-wing President Salvador Allende – the world’s first democratically elected Marxist leader.
Whatever the political standing, everyone can acknowledge at least one truth – the human rights violations, which saw 3,000 Chileans simply disappear off the face of the earth and tens of thousands tortured, was one of the darkest periods of Chilean history.
Beyond the numbers
To date only 262 people have been sentenced for their part in the human rights violations of Pinochet’s regime. Over 1,000 judicial cases of human rights violations remain open today.
It has taken a lot of courage, honesty and investigation to even get to this point of human rights prosecutions. Many procedural changes from the state and justice systems have ensured that families affected by the torture have found justice.
But there is still a long road ahead.
While official figures state almost there were 40,000 victims of torture, detention and human rights abuses during Pinochet’s reign, experts believe that unofficially the number is much higher.
It takes continuous bravery for a torture survivor and their family or community to pursue justice. The crimes they know of may be too much to talk about – the details and sadness may just be too strong.
But survivors of torture, and their families, do talk. Thanks to limited positive cooperation from the Chilean judicial system, progress has been made with the transfer of some proceedings against human rights violators from private military courts to the civilian courts which apply greater transparency and independence.
However, jurisdiction surrounding military crimes still applies to human rights violations committed by the state. The result is that justice is still needlessly difficult to achieve for many affected by torture and, if justice is pursued, it is often in private.
The 40th anniversary gives Chileans an opportunity to show the world their progress post-Pinochet, to show every person who was perhaps skeptical of the country that Chile has evolved in ways once thought to be unimaginable.
More needs to be done to fully establish the truth surrounding Pinochet’s rule. For the past few months, Amnesty International has collected more than 25,000 signatures through an online petition calling for more open and accessible justice systems for torture victims, and for greater enforcement of human rights law in Chile.
It is a reminder that while the past is gone, dealing with this past properly is the only way to shape the future.
The reign of Pinochet is something which will not, unlike the victims of his regime, disappear any time soon.
On the 17 November the Chilean people will be reminded of the horrors of Pinochet once more, as they vote for their next President – the two candidates, Ms Bachelet and Ms Matthei, are daughters of two generals who suffered different fates under Pinochet’s rule.
As the BBC reports, Gen Alberto Bachelet was arrested, tortured and died in detention. Gen Fernando Matthei became a part of Gen Pinochet’s regime.
Pinochet may be gone but, for better or worse, he is certainly not forgotten.
Editor’s note: Ashley Scrace is a Communications Officer with the IRCT and writes from their office in Copenhagen, Denmark. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter by going to @Ashleyscrace
The day saw an unprecedented number of organisations around the world come together to mark the day, to stand in solidarity with survivors of torture and to remind the world that rehabilitation for torture survivors not only works, it is a right to which they are entitled.
As Joost Martens, IRCT Secretary-General says in his foreword to the report,
Each year, on 26 June, we pause to commemorate and honour the victims of torture, both historic and present. The day has been marked since 1988, which was the first anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, signed on 26 June 1987.
Yet today, despite its absolute prohibition, torture continues to be a global phenomenon: both physical and psychological torture is prevalent in over half the world’s countries. This is a disgrace in the twenty-first century.
Its victims are men, women – often targeted by rape and other sexual torture, and also, children. Torture victims are disproportionately from marginalised groups, in particular the poor, but also minority groups, such as ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.
The day gives us a time to pause and remember those who have suffered, and stand with those who continue to suffer, for, the effects of torture continue long after the actual act has happened.
These are some of the photos we got from 26 June events around the world:
Yesterday, we tweeted a press release from the Asian Human Rights Commission that described the arrest and torture of 15 Papua civilians by the Indonesia military.
Siki Kogoya, a villager who was in his yard at the time, was shocked upon hearing the gunshot, after which he saw the joint team members make their way to him. One of the members pointed his gun at Siki’s mouth, while three others pointed their long barreled rifles at his neck. They then beat him with rifle butts and kicked his head, face, ribs and chest.
Today, we noticed also through Twitter of a Channel 4 (UK) news broadcast on an unrelated case of torture also involving the Indonesian military and Papua civilians. A warning: although a news broadcast, the video below is disturbing and depicts violence and torture.
Here’s a link to support the AHRC Urgent Appeal.