When we think of torture, we each have our own interpretations.
For most Australians, it’s likely that theirs come from history or from fiction.
TORTURE is a sickening word. But it’s an even more sickening act.
So of course no Australian would want to contemplate that they or their government were currently committing, or party to, torture. That’s the kind of thing most people associate with very different kinds of cultures and regimes.
The legal definition of torture can be read in full at the Association for the Prevention of Torture website, the key cumulative elements of which are listed as:
- the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical suffering
- by a public official, who is directly or indirectly involved
- for a specific purpose.
So, sadly, it was no surprise to those who know even just some of what’s occurring on Australia’s offshore processing and mandatory detention sites that two global experts have assessed Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum as TORTURE.
THE UN RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE has the international role of assessing when human rights are being violated to the extent that torture is being committed.
And BOTH the previous and the current UN Rapporteurs have found that Australia is doing just that.
The recent February 2018 report by Special Rapporteur Professor Nils Melzer leaves no doubt that ‘torture’ is the correct assessment of Australia’s deterrent approach to people seeking asylum saying that:
“detention based solely on migration-status, as such, can also amount to torture, most notably where it is being intentionally imposed or perpetuated for purposes such as deterring, intimidating, or punishing irregular migrants or their families, coercing them into withdrawing their requests for asylum, subsidiary protection or other stay, agreeing to voluntary repatriation …”.
AND YET THESE ARE THE PRACTICES WHICH THE MAJORITY OF AUSTRALIAN POLITICIANS ESPOUSE!
And it’s not only the international arbiters of torture who have warned the Australian government…
MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS contracted to provide services for offshore detainees continue to speak out about what their own experiences have revealed –
“in my entire career of 43 years I have never seen more atrocity than I have seen in the incarcerated situations of Manus Island and Nauru”.
Dr Peter Young’s submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nauru is a catalogue of disturbing warnings of serious health impacts (including children exposed to abuse) issued to the Immigration Department whose repeated responses seem to have been active/passive denial.
And Professor David Isaacs’ paper specifically addressing “the moral dilemma of whether to work in immigration detention at all and effectively condone what amounts to TORTURE, and if [practitioners] do work there, they must decide for how long and to what extent they report on harms“ was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics with an excerpt recounted in the February 2016 ‘Grievance Debate on Asylum Seekers’ in Australian federal parliament:
“Families were housed in adjoining tents, and guards walk in without warning. Showers and toilets were up to 120m away. At night, the long dark walk under the eyes of guards was enough to deter many women and children, who wet the bed, then put the mattress out to dry in the sun. Shower time was limited; guards would offer longer if women exposed themselves. There was constant bullying and humiliation.”
So, it ‘TORTURE’ still in question?
Or is the answer simply, ‘We don’t care.”
You can stand up for the victims of the treatment that continues to deny people’s basic human rights and inflicts such harm that the impact can be permanent or even fatal.
Please contact your federal MP to convey your views – which are their responsibility to represent – on Australia’s policies and practices in relation to people seeking asylum.
If the majority of their constituents won’t stand for torture, neither should they!