In all the commotion about the timing of the AHRC’s kids in detention report, everyone seems to be overlooking 6 things:
- The kids are still in detention
- Abbott knows they’re being abused
- Abbott and his Immigration Minister are responsible for that abuse
- Abbott knows detention of children is not a deterrent
- Abbott says he feels no guilt
- Abbott agreed to remain quiet on Sri Lankan human rights abuses
That last point may seem a bit of a tangent, but it’s not. Stick with me, as I walk through each point, then draw them together…
The kids are still in detention
As I write this, nearly a fortnight after the release of the AHRC’s report, there are still 211 children held in immigration detention facilities within Australia (that’s according to the government’s own figures from January 31, 2015 – p.3).
Abbott knows they’re being abused
The AHRC report detailed the harm caused by the detention of these children (p.62):
- 233 assaults involving children;
- 33 incidents of reported sexual assault (the majority involving children); and
- 27 incidents of voluntary starvation/hunger strikes.
Abbott and his Immigration Minister are responsible for that abuse
Under international law, all asylum seekers who come to our shores and ask for protection are our responsibility. Under the UN Refugee Convention, we are required to take in asylum seekers who come to our shores, and assess their asylum claims.
And while they’re detained by us, they are legally our responsibility. The Department retains full control and responsibility for everything that happens to children in these places.
And our Immigration Minister is the legal guardian of any unaccompanied minors in detention: So he is personally responsible for any unaccompanied minors in detention…
the minister has the same rights, powers, duties, obligations and liabilities as the parents of an unaccompanied minor would have if they were in Australia. The guardian is responsible for an unaccompanied minor’s basic needs including food, housing, health, education, and protection from harm.”
Our government (and the Labor party) know that their policy of mandatory detention causes harm to children. The recent AHRC report is only one of several expert, independent reports to confirm this. Yet the government insists on pursuing its policy of detaining children. They are, therefore, knowingly committing acts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse on children. I say “committing”, not merely “enabling” because that’s exactly what’s happening, according to the government’s own definition of child abuse. The Australian Institute of Family Studies defines child abuse as:
any non-accidental behaviour by parents, caregivers, other adults or older adolescents that is outside the norms of conduct and entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person.”
According to this definition, a person is guilty of child abuse even if they’re not the person carrying out the acts of abuse. They merely need to do something that “entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person”, which clearly our government is doing (and knowingly). So, in fact, the government isn’t just sanctioning child abuse, it’s committing it. Systemically.
Abbott knows detention of children is not a deterrent
According to the AHRC report (p.11):
Both the Hon Chris Bowen MP, as a former Minister for Immigration, and the Hon Scott Morrison MP, the current Minister for Immigration, agreed on oath before the Inquiry that holding children in detention does not deter either asylum seekers or people smugglers.”
Abbott says he feels no guilt
When asked on radio if he felt any guilt, Tony replied:
Abbott agreed to remain quiet on Sri Lankan human rights abuses
Since the Sri Lankan civil war ‘officially’ ended, allegations of torture in police custody persist. UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay warned in 2013 that Sri Lanka was becoming increasingly authoritarian. Tamils face the risk of sexual violence, torture, murder, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, concurs. According to an estimate by The Sentinel Project, ‘the overall risk of genocide in Sri Lanka is medium to high’, as ‘conditions point to a likely renewal of conflict in Sri Lanka that could escalate to mass atrocities including genocide’.
In a report by the International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said:
The evidence presented in this report gives the lie to the Sri Lankan government’s propaganda that it is reconciling with its former enemies. It shows how anyone remotely connected with the losing side in the civil war is being hunted down, tortured and raped, five years after the guns fell silent. Shockingly, more than half of the abductions in the report took place as recently as 2013-2014. The testimony collected here comes from 40 witnesses, almost all of whose families could afford to pay a bribe for their release; one wonders what happened to those whose relatives could not afford to pay and to those without relatives. The sheer viciousness and brutality of the sexual violence is staggering; as is the racist verbal abuse by the torturers and rapists in the Sri Lankan security forces. Thirty-five of these witnesses were forced to sign confessions in Sinhala; a language they do not understand. In some cases people were forced to turn informer as well as to betray innocent bystanders in order to survive and left to bear the subsequent terrible burden of guilt. I find it horrifying that almost half the witnesses interviewed for this report attempted to kill themselves after reaching safety outside Sri Lanka. This indicates the Sri Lankan government has achieved its aim in destroying these souls, who are unlikely to regain happiness and peace in their lives. My deepest hope is that the cycle of revenge will be broken. In order for this to happen, the international community must intervene. It is imperative to pierce the skein of impunity that surrounds Sri Lanka – an island where the war is clearly not yet over.
Here are a few very unpleasant victim accounts of their torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan government (click to zoom):
Indeed, Australia still warns tourists to “exercise a high degree of caution in Sri Lanka” because of an “unpredictable security environment”, “politically-motivated attacks” and ongoing “post-conflict security force activity”.
Yet in November 2013, Abbott defended Sri Lanka’s alleged use of torture:
sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”
Finally, about 10 days after the release of the AHRC report, the reason became clear. Sri Lanka’s new prime minister revealed that the Australian government agreed to keep quiet on Sri Lankan human rights abuses in return for help stopping boats carrying asylum seekers:
It was being done by people with Rajapaksa connections, but once this deal was done between Australia and the Rajapaksa government, where you looked the other way [on human rights abuses], then the secretary of defence got the navy to patrol… You could not have got anyone out of this country without someone in the security system looking the other way, the police or the navy.”
So why aren’t the media hounding him?
Clearly Abbott knows about the abuse he’s causing, enabling and helping to cover up. And in the case of kids in detention, he knows it’s not even achieving anything. Yet he persists with it. So why aren’t the media jumping up and down about this? It’s a scandal on a platter, but there’s almost complete media silence on it. Instead, they’re all reporting on the timing of the report, its alleged partisan nature, and – of course – the latest ‘terror threat’ (surprise, surprise).
Come on, Australian media. Abbott, Dutton and Morrison shouldn’t be given a pass here!