Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Profile of Behrouz Boochani who Just Wanted to Be Free

August 5, 2020

The New York Times Magazine of 4 august features a long, substantial and richly illustrated story by Megan K. Stack – an author and a journalist- on Behrouz Boochani the Iranian refugee rescued from Australia’s off shore camps [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/01/behrouz-boochani-gives-interview-in-new-zealand-finally-out-of-manus-island/].

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/

Here follow some long excerpts that give you a flavour of a profile worth reading in full:

Behrouz Boochani’s book, “No Friend but the Mountains,” won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 while he was still detained on Manus Island.
Behrouz Boochani’s book, “No Friend but the Mountains,” won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 while he was still detained on Manus Island.Credit…Birgit Krippner for The New York Times

He fled Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He exposed Australia’s offshore detention camps — from the inside. He survived, stateless, for seven years. What’s next?

..The cellphone was everything on Manus. Boochani and the other detainees hoarded their cigarettes for weeks to barter for phones with the detention center’s local employees. Once acquired, the phones had to be hidden from the guards, who conducted surprise dawn inspections to hunt for contraband. Boochani’s phone was confiscated twice; each time, there was no recourse but to start over again, one sacrificed smoke at a time.

The phones quickly became the only tool successful at breaking through the shroud of secrecy that Australia tried to throw over the migrants’ detention. Locked up in the disused rooms of the old naval base, the asylum seekers were called by serial numbers instead of names. Communications were tightly restricted. Under Australian law, workers who spoke publicly about what they saw or heard at the detention sites faced up to two years in prison. But official documents and accounts from survivors and whistle blowers gradually leaked out, along with accusations of sexual and physical abuse. Asylum seekers sought solace in self-harm as their mental and physical health crumbled under the strain of prolonged and uncertain detention.

Boochani wrote “No Friend but the Mountains” in Persian, sending texts of ideas and descriptive fragments to nonexistent WhatsApp numbers that he used to organize his thoughts. Once satisfied with a passage, he sent it to Moones Mansoubi, a translator in Sydney, who organized the material into chapters before sending it along to Omid Tofighian, an Iranian-Australian philosophy professor. Slowly, haltingly, Boochani and Tofighian texted back and forth about how best to translate and arrange the passages into a draft. Together they blended poetry and prose into a genre Tofighian calls “horrific surrealism.”

First-person narratives that paint historical events from the perspective of the persecuted have proven powerful and enduring. These stories are subversive; the images slip into a reader’s mind and create empathy where there was little before. They can permanently alter the way history is recorded and understood.

Boochani’s book challenges readers to acknowledge that we are living in the age of camps. The camps lie scattered throughout the Middle East, cluster on Greek islands and stretch like an ugly tattoo along the U.S.-Mexican border. Camps sprawl through Bangladesh, Chad and Colombia. People are suspended in a stateless and extralegal limbo on the tiny Pacific island nation Nauru, in Guantánamo and in the Syrian town of al-Hawl. At no time since humans first drew borders have there been more migrants and refugees than today. Countless individual lives weave into a collective panorama of displacement and statelessness and detention. These truncated journeys are a defining experience of our times.

As for Boochani, he refuses to cede the story of his hardships to third-party observers. He criticizes journalists who depict refugees as faceless victims. He bristles at perceived condescension from academics or activists who benefit from what he describes as an industry built around the plight of refugees. When Kristina Keneally, a prominent center-left senator in Australia, sent a tweet supporting Boochani, he tweeted in anger: “Such a rediclilius [sic] and unacceptable statement by Labor Party. You exiled me to Manus and you have supported this exile policy for years…

The miseries of offshore detention were meant to pressure migrants to abandon their asylum claims so they could legally be sent back whence they came and — more crucial — to create a spectacle so chilling that “boat people” would stop coming to Australia altogether. That was the first and last point of this byzantine enterprise.

…After six months of misery and unanswered questions, immigration officials appeared at the camp and warned asylum seekers that they would be stuck in Manus for a long time yet. Enraged detainees rioted that night, lunging at the guards and hurling chairs. Local police and Manus residents rushed into the compound to quell the unrest. Dozens of detainees were injured, some suffering broken bones and severe lacerations. One man lost an eye; another’s throat was slashed, reportedly by a guard. Barati, Boochani’s close friend, was viciously attacked by a group that included an employee of the Salvation Army, which had a $50 million contract from the Australian government to provide counseling to the asylum seekers. The assailants killed Barati by dropping a heavy rock onto his head. He was the first detainee to die on Manus.

In 2019, most of the asylum seekers were moved to motels in Port Moresby because, it seemed, nobody knew what else to do with them.

The first time I saw Boochani, he was still being detained on Manus Island. It was a chilly, wind-scraped morning in 2019. Boochani was discussing his book via video link at the annual writers festival in Byron Bay, Australia. When his face flickered onto the screen, the overflowing crowd that jammed the seaside auditorium gasped and burst into applause. Boochani looked haggard and detached; dangling hair framed his craggy features. “Oh, God,” said a woman near me. “He looks so alone.”…

Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, frequently says the asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea include men “of bad character” — “Labour’s mess” that he has been forced to “clean up.” Pauline Hanson, a right-wing populist senator, called the men “rapists” on the floor of Parliament this past winter. “These people are thugs,” she said. “They don’t belong here in Australia.”..

All told, Australia has locked up thousands of desperate people, including children, in de facto prisons on Manus and Nauru. The detentions have been harsh but effective, officials say: The flow of boats slowed and eventually stopped. Asylum seekers are still stuck on Nauru; until last year, they included children. The Australian government recently spent about $130 million to reopen the detention center on Christmas Island — despite the lack of new arrivals to lock up. In other words, the policy is still unapologetically intact, ready and waiting for any boats that make it to Australian waters.

It was a brilliant January day in Christchurch, New Zealand. Screeching gulls wheeled in off the Pacific; swollen roses bobbed in the breeze. In the hydrangea-fringed garden of a spare, tidy house, Boochani sat smoking. He couldn’t smoke inside because the house wasn’t exactly his; it was on loan from the University of Canterbury. Boochani’s neighborhood looked as if Beatrix Potter had painted it in watercolors: prim, ivy-laced cottages and tidy beds of hollyhocks and lavender. It was nice, Boochani conceded. Too nice, sometimes. “It’s too much, you know?” he said. “It’s too much peace and too much beauty. It’s hard to deal with this. It’s like you go from a very cold place to a very hot place.”

During these early and disorienting weeks, Boochani got word that it was finally time to begin the final steps to resettle in the United States. He’d been awaiting this news for months, but when his chance came, he backed out. Reports of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, immigration crackdowns and political tumult had eroded his eagerness. “I don’t feel safe in America now,” he said simply. “I don’t mean that someone would kill me. But I don’t trust the American system. It’s like chaos there now.”

Instead, Boochani took a bold gamble: He applied for asylum in New Zealand. He accepted a fellowship with the university’s Ngai Tahu Research Center, which specializes in Maori and Indigenous studies — a nod to his Kurdish identity — although the post would remain a secret while his application to stay in New Zealand was pending. Neither his whereabouts nor his plans were public knowledge. Conservative politicians in both New Zealand and Australia were calling for Boochani to be turned out. What would he do then, where would he go? He shrugged; he didn’t answer; instead, he began to roll another cigarette. ..

..This is the complication and the delicacy of Boochani: His most famous work was derived from the considerable suffering he endured at the hands of the state. He is proud, even cocky at times. And yet this pride must wrestle with the dehumanization he has endured. His existence was controlled by a hostile bureaucracy for years; now his days were arranged by benevolent well-wishers.

Then, on July 23, Boochani’s birthday, he finally got word from his lawyer: His application had been accepted. Boochani could stay in New Zealand. He was free. On the phone, he let out a wild and incredulous laugh. Of course! When else? It had been his birthday, too, the day he was lifted from the sea and taken into Australian custody. Hearing him laugh like that, I remembered one of his stories: When he was born, his parents asked a visiting cousin who knew how to read to choose a name for the baby. The cousin opened a book and poked his finger onto the page at random, striking the word “Behrouz” — Farsi for “fortunate.” Literally, “good day.”

Boochani rode his bike from his house to the sea. He looked at the expanse of ocean, these waters that had almost killed him, the sea he suspected of absconding with years of his life, the waves that crashed now on the mineral grains of this new land he called home. He looked at the ocean, at all of that past and all of that future, the churn of time and destiny, and he smoked a cigarette. Just one cigarette. One cigarette and the sea in his eyes. And then he rode home again.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/magazine/behrouz-boochani-australia.html?referringSource=articleShare

Chau Van Kham – Australian human rights defender – ‘disappeared’ inside Vietnam’s prison system

June 8, 2020

Chau Van Kham’s family has lost contact with him for nearly four months and fear the Australian government has ‘forgotten about him’ writes the Guardian on 6 June 2020.

Chau Van Kham

Vietnamese-born Australian, Chau Van Kham, was arrested in January 2019 and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on ‘financing terrorism’ charges. Photograph: HRW/HANDOUT/EPA

Ben Doherty reports that the 70-year-old Australian Vietnamese-born Chau has “disappeared” inside Vietnam’s prison system and that no one from his family or the Australian government has been allowed to see or speak with him for nearly four months. Human rights advocates, lawyers and Chau Van Kham’s family said the charges against him are baseless and politically motivated, his single-day multiple-defendant trial was grossly unfair, and his failing health means his 12-year prison sentence is “effectively a death sentence”.

Chau’s son Dennis told the Guardian his family feared his failing health will be exacerbated by his isolation.  Chau’s sister, who lives in Vietnam, had previously been allowed to visit once a month to give her brother money, medicine and letters from home. But she has been refused access and phone calls to him since 10 February. Consular visits scheduled for February, March, April and May were all cancelled out of concerns over the spread of Covid-19. Permission for a visit in June is pending.

He has literally disappeared,” Australian lawyer Dan Phuong Nguyen, who is acting pro bono for the Chau family, told the Guardian.

[Chau, an Australian citizen, was born in Vietnam and served in the army of the Republic of Vietnam before 1975. After the war, he was sent to a re-education camp for three years before he fled Vietnam by boat, arriving in Australia in 1983. In Sydney, he worked as a baker for decades, rising before dawn to work at a modest suburban bakery. In 2010, he became a member of the Viet Tan pro-democracy organisation, and became a key Australian organiser of pro-reform rallies and an outspoken advocate for democratisation in Vietnam. The United Nations describes Viet Tan as “a peaceful organisation advocating for democratic reform”, but it was formally proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the Vietnamese government in 2016, which said it was “a reactionary and terrorist organisation, always silently carrying out activities against Vietnam.]

Chau sought to return to Vietnam in 2019 to meet fellow pro-democracy advocates but was refused a visa. He crossed into Vietnam via a land border with Cambodia in January, carrying a false identity document. He was arrested after meeting a democracy activist who, it is believed, was under surveillance, along with Vietnamese nationals Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen, who were sentenced to 11 and 10 years prison respectively.

Chau was convicted and sentenced at his first appearance in the people’s court of Ho Chi Minh City after more than 10 months in detention.

The single-day judge-only trial, held simultaneously with four other people, saw him tried and convicted on charges of “financing terrorism”, and sentenced to 12 years in jail, all within four hours.

The court was effectively closed – open only for approved people, his family was excluded – for the entirety of the trial. Viet Tan condemned Chau’s hearing as a “sham trial” and said it would “continue to support human rights defenders on the ground”.  Chau’s appeal was dismissed in March.

Dennis Chau told a human rights summit in Geneva this year: “With a 12-year sentence, [my father will] be 82 when he is released … I don’t believe I’ll ever see him alive, a free man. It’s effectively a death sentence.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/07/jailed-australian-democracy-activist-has-disappeared-inside-vietnams-prison-system

Former climate change chief Christiana Figueres awarded Sydney Peace Gold Medal for Human Rights

March 3, 2020

The Sydney Peace Foundation said that it had decided to recognise Figueres for her efforts as a climate change diplomat, recognising both the success of facilitating a new global agreement, as well as the pressing international issue of climate change and its relevance to global human rights. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sydney-peace-foundations-gold-medal-for-human-rights.

“Figueres is one of the world’s top negotiators having done what many said was impossible, she brought the world to the table to sign the Paris Agreement. She is now challenging governments, business and civil society to work together to stop the climate from rising to catastrophic levels,” Sydney Peace Foundation director Susan Biggs said.

Figueres recently criticised the Australian government’s response to climate change, saying that Australia had to demonstrate leadership in reducing emissions if it expected other countries to act on climate change. “Australia needs all other countries to help in solving what is a global problem, not a national problem. If Australia doesn’t put a firm foot forward, it stands in no position to actually ask all other countries to also put their best foot forward,” Figueres said in an interview with Triple J Hack.

Former UN climate chief receives human rights award from Sydney Peace Foundation

Annual reports 2019: CIVICUS Global Report

December 27, 2019

The end of a year usually means looking back and many human rights NGOs issue reports of this kind. Here is the first by CIVICUS, through its Monitor:

Civic space – space for civil society – is the bedrock of any open and democratic society. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs) are able to organise, participate and communicate without hindrance. When people are free to participate, they are able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respectsand facilitates their fundamental rights to associate, assemble peacefully and freely express their views andopinions. These are the three key rights that civil society depends upon.

The CIVICUS Monitor analyses the extent to which these three civil society rights are being respected and upheld, and the degree to which states areprotecting civil society. In an attempt to capture these dynamics on a global scale, over 20 organisations from around the world have joined forces on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space. In order to draw comparisons at the global level and track trends over time, the CIVICUS Monitor produces civic space ratings for 196 countries. Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories – open, narrowed, obstructed, repressed, or closed – based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Civic space updates from our research partners contain qualitative, narrative information related to the situation for civil society in a country. This qualitative information is directed by a set of guiding questions and the resulting data is gathered from a variety of primary and secondary sources. In many cases, country-specific updates have come directly from national civil society themselves. (Methodology: In countries where it does not have a research partner, the CIVICUS Monitor relies on a variety of other sources produced at the national, regional and international levels to arrive at country ratings. These civic space updates are then triangulated, verified and tagged by the CIVICUS team. Together, the research partners posted 536 civic space updates from 1 October 2018 to 11 November 2019 which form the basis for the analysis presented in this report. For the time period assessed, these civic space updates cover 153 countries. This report analyses trends and developments since its previous report, published in November 2018. As well as global-level trends, it analyses trends in five regions: Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia and Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Following an update of ratings in November 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor continues to tell a worrying story. The data shows that there are 24 countries with closed civic space, 38 countries with repressed space and 49 with obstructed space. Just 43 countries receive an open rating, and 42 countries are rated narrowed. Since our previous report, published in November 2018, space for activism has reduced: only three per cent of the world’s population now live in countries with open civic space. Nine countries have changed their civic space rating since our November 2018 update: two have improved their ratings, while seven have worsened. This indicates that repression of peaceful civic activism continues to be a widespread crisis for civil society in most parts of the world. Worrying signs for civic space continue to be seen in Asia, where two countries, Brunei and India, dropped their rating from obstructed to repressed. Given the size and global role of India, the decline in the quality of its civic space must be of particular concern. One country in the Pacific – Australia – dropped from an open to narrowed rating, partially due to increased restrictions on the freedom of expression and government surveillance

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/06/20-human-rights-defenders-under-attack-one-for-each-year-of-the-declaration/

Click to access GlobalReport2019.pdf

Behrouz Boochani gives interview in New Zealand – finally out of Manus island

December 1, 2019

Boochani in 2018 outside an abandoned naval base on Manus Island where he was kept for three years. Photo/Getty Images

On 28 November, 2019 Sally Blundel inteviewed Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. The award winning refugee [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/04/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-major-literary-prize-putting-more-pressure-on-detention-policy/] was invited to New Zealand. Where he will be after his month-long visa expires, he cannot say, but he will still write, he says, this time a novel. “Because literature has the power to give us freedom. Because through literature we can challenge the power structure.”

In a quiet suburban Christchurch garden, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, poet and film-maker Behrouz Boochani, cigarette in hand, paces out three large steps. “We lived in a very small room, from here to here, four of us. On Manus you didn’t have privacy or space. Finding the time and quiet to write was the hardest thing.”

But find time he did, to write poems and articles, film a documentary on a smartphone and tap out an entire book, furtively sent paragraph by paragraph via What’sApp text messages, chronicling the squalid conditions, medical neglect, mental anguish, suicide, even murder, experienced by asylum seekers held on Manus Island under Australia’s “stop the boats” policy.

It is six years since Boochani was pulled from a sinking boat just days out of Indonesia and taken to Australia’s “offshore processing centre” on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It is just over a week since he left Port Moresby to fly to Auckland, taking a route that avoided Australia, to speak at Christchurch’s WORD book festival as a free man. “I got my freedom through literature,” he says.

Boochani knows the power of words. As a journalist in Iran in 2013, he reported on the arrest and detention of his colleagues on Kurdish-language magazine Werya in Ilam, north-west Iran. His fellow journalists were eventually released – they attributed their survival to Boochani’s article – but by then he was in danger. He fled, travelling through South-east Asia to Indonesia where, in July that year, he was among a group of 75 men, women and children who boarded an unseaworthy boat heading for Australia. The vessel’s bilge pump failed in rough seas. When rescued by the Royal Australian Navy, Boochani requested asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Instead, he and his fellow asylum seekers were incarcerated on Christmas Island before being transferred to the Manus Island detention centre as part of Australia’s “Pacific Solution II”.

………To write his book, he adopted a new routine, sleeping from 6pm until 11pm when everyone was too busy to note his absence. From 11pm, he would write under the blankets until 8am, then sleep until noon. In 2016, after the PNG Supreme Court declared the indefinite detention of asylum seekers to be unlawful, phones were no longer prohibited. Each night, he would sit outside, smoking, writing, absorbing as much of the natural environment as he could from his side of the prison fence. “For the prisoner who is alone, nature is so important,” he says. “Always, it is a place you can escape to – even the sky, they cannot take the sky away. But it is very harsh to look up at the many birds flying and knowing you cannot follow them.”

….

“If someone asked me to write this book again, of course I am able to write it, but I could not write it this way. When I describe starving, I was starving. When I describe the characters, those people were around me in prison. It is the same with the feelings. In that camp people rely on each other; there’s a culture of brotherhood because there is no space, but there’s also a kind of hatred because you are so tired of having so many other people around you. I have lost those feelings now, but in prison they were true feelings.”

Boochani in Christchurch. Photo/Getty Images

Through articles sent to the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Refugees Action Collective and the United Nations, and the support of a global network of writers, translators, academics and activists, including Australia’s Janet Galbraith, founder of online project Writing Through Fences, Boochani refused to let the thousands of asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru fade from public gaze. In 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Australia’s offshore processing centres as “unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to human rights” (New Zealand’s offers under National first, then Labour, to settle at least 150 detainees were rejected by successive Australian prime ministers).

……

Plea for release

But within the camp the book also drew attention to Boochani himself. This year, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for Australia’s creative professionals, sent an open letter to the Government of Scott Morrison urging Boochani’s release. Signed by prominent journalists and writers, including Tom Keneally Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Kate Grenville and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, it said, “We are deeply concerned for Behrouz Boochani’s welfare and safety. The success of his book and his status as a journalist have made him a target of the Manus authorities; a danger that has only increased with his rising profile.”

In June, WORD Christchurch programme director Rachael King invited Boochani to speak at a special festival event. Especially after the city’s March 15 mosque shootings, she explained, “it felt important to share the stories of refugees”.

With help from author Lloyd Jones, whose recent book The Cage is itself a dark parable about the human capacity for inhumanity, she was able to email her invitation directly to Boochani. Boochani was receptive to the idea. By then he was one of more than 300 people moved from Manus Island to Port Moresby. He was hoping to be part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal with the US (he was later accepted for this programme), but he wanted to wait until the Manus Island camp was finally closed.

“It would have been immoral for me to leave those people in Manus, to create a platform and have this privilege and this recognition, because it is about all our resistance – it was not only for me.”

In October, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, told Parliament “we’ve completely closed” the Manus Island facility. By then, only three asylum seekers were left on the island. The remaining detainees still in Papua New Guinea were in Port Moresby, including a reported 46 held in Bomana Prison.

Indonesian human rights defender Veronica Koman receives Sir Ronald Wilson Human Rights Award

October 24, 2019

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has awarded the Sir Ronald Wilson Human Rights Award to Indonesian lawyer and human rights defender Veronica Koman for her courageous work in exposing human rights violations in the Indonesian Provinces of Papua and West Papua. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/un-experts-urge-indonesia-to-protect-human-rights-defender-veronica-koman/]

Amid the recent internet blackout and mass demonstrations in West Papua Ms Koman disseminated information about the escalating situation on social media and functioned as a key source of information to the outside world. It honours the courage she has shown to continue to stand up for the human rights of West Papuans, and their right to self-determination, despite intensifying harassment and intimidation. Ms Koman has received death threats and accusations of being a traitor and has had charges brought against her for spreading false information and provoking unrest, with penalties of up to 6 years in prison. There are reports that Indonesian authorities have requested Interpol to put Ms Koman on a ‘red notice’ to locate her and enable her extradition. ACFID presented the award to Ms Koman at its annual conference on Wednesday 23 October 2019, in Sydney.Ms Koman said: “I dedicate this award to the victims of the crackdown which began in late August in West Papua, especially the dozens who have died at the hands of security forces, and the 22 political prisoners charged with treason. I hope this year’s award will raise awareness in Australia about human rights abuses suffered by West Papuans and the decades-long denial of their fundamental right to self-determination.

ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell, said: “We call on the Government of Australia to provide Ms Koman the protection to which she is entitled as a human rights defender. In line with recommendations from the UN Office of the High Commission of Human Rights, the Australian Government should also encourage Indonesia to drop all charges against Ms Koman and to protect the freedom of expression of all people reporting on the protests in West Papua.

For the Sir Ronald Wilson Human Rights Award see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sir-ronald-wilson-human-rights-award

https://acfid.asn.au/media-releases/veronica-koman-receives-sir-ronald-wilson-human-rights-award?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news

Flight from Manus: the inside story of an exceptional case

September 30, 2019

The journalist Michael Green produced for Earshot a fascinating story on the long trip of Abdul Aziz Muhamat from Manus Island to Geneva. Green followed Aziz closely for years and came to Geneva with him for the Martin Ennals Award ceremony where I met them both. Now the story is complete with beautiful pictures, insights and sound tracks. Flight from Manus cannot really be summarised and the best is to see the whole story for yourself (link below).

One day, he’s in a detention centre. The next he’s in Geneva, where his face is on billboards and he’s celebrated as a champion of human rights. Aziz was in an incongruous situation, burdened with a heavy choice….

…..With some delays and complications, he made it to Switzerland, but he was only given permission to stay for two weeks. Then, he’d have to return to Manus Island — back to the situation he was being celebrated for campaigning against.

After he accepted the award, a meeting frenzy ensued. Over the following days, Aziz met with a slew of diplomats, dignitaries, politicians and UN bodies. He made speeches at universities and at the United Nations Human Rights Council….[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/02/mea-laureate-abdul-aziz-addresses-un-human-rights-council-on-off-shore-refugee-policy/]

One day, when he arrived for an event at a university, I noticed he was sporting a brand new navy blue overcoat. That morning, someone who had attended the awards ceremony recognised Aziz at the train station. The man said he’d been following Aziz on Twitter and noticed that he was always wearing the same flimsy, zip-up top. He wanted to buy Aziz a proper winter coat — and took him into a nearby store to do just that. Aziz never even got his name.

And yet, despite the all interest and adulation, he still wasn’t free…

..Aziz started getting headaches every day. In his meetings, people were telling him he should not go back to Manus Island. His friends back there were saying it wasn’t safe to return. Despite his doubts, and a crushing sense of guilt and duty towards the people he left behind, Aziz decided he would be a more effective advocate if he could remain in Europe. On the day he was due to leave Switzerland, in early March, Aziz instead sought asylum. He submitted himself to a new detention centre — and to a new uncertain, indefinite future…

…The months went by. ……Finally, in June, Aziz received a phone call from his lawyer that changed everything. Switzerland granted him asylum and permanent residency. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/10/aziz-mea-laureate-2019-recognised-as-refugee-in-switzerland-from-where-he-promises-to-continue-the-sttuggle/]

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The sound bites were turned into a podcast, The Messenger, co-produced by Behind the Wire and The Wheeler Centre.

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For those in Geneva on Wednesday 2 October 2019 (18:15 – 19:30) in Auditorium A2 of the Maison de la paix, Geneva, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will be speaking about “Surviving Manus Island detention Centre:  A testimony” Moderator: Vincent Chetail  A staunch defender of human rights and dignity, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will share his experience and offer his insight into what lies ahead.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2720741894616336/

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https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-30/refugee-abdul-aziz-muhamat-manus-to-geneva/11539314

see also: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-09/un-bachelet-criticises-australia-asylum-seeker-policies/11588084

Saudi Arabia in the spotlight at the 42nd Sesstion of the Council – hits back wildly

September 25, 2019

The ISHR published a media release on 23 September 2019 about Australia delivering a joint statement on behalf of a cross-regional group of States expressing their concern over the persecution and intimidation of activists, including women human rights defenders, reports of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and impunity. It calls on the Saudi government to end impunity including for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, accept visits by UN experts, end the death penalty and ratify international human rights treaties.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/]

During the same debate, the sister of woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, Lina Al-Hathloul called on the UN Human Rights Council to help her hold those who tortured her sister accountable, and secure her immediate and unconditional release.  Since March 2019, the Council has increased its scrutiny of Saudi Arabia, when Iceland delivered the first ever joint statement on the country. In June 2019, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions Dr. Agnes Callamard presented to the Council her investigation which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. The UN expert urged States to act immediately to ensure accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and guarantee non-repetition.

Australia, leading a cross-regional group of States, has stood up today for human rights despite the political and economic costs’, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council advocate. ‘The international community sent a strong and clear message to the government of Saudi Arabia that its crimes won’t go unanswered and that as a Council member, it will be held to heightened scrunity’. [The States who signed on the joint statement are: Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, The United Kingdom].

ISHR, as part of the Coalition of Free Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women’s rights activists. The statement has set out a list of measures that Saudi Arabia should take to demonstrate its political will to engage in good faith with the Council and improve its human rights record. They include:

  • ending the persecution and intimidation of activists, journalists, dissents and their family members;
  • ending impunity for torture and extrajudicial killings, including establishing the truth and accountability for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi;
  • ending its use of the death penalty;
  • accepting visits by relevant UN Special Procedures;
  • ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/16/rsfs-press-freedom-award-2019-goes-to-three-women-journalists/]

If Saudi Arabia does not meet any of the benchmarks, the Council should follow up with a resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country in the upcoming session in March 2020′, concluded El Hosseiny.  Read the joint statement here and watch Lina Al-Hathloul’s statement here.

In response the Saudi delegation has accused the Australian government of racism and of supporting anti-Islamic terrorists like the alleged Christchurch shooter.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/25/saudi-arabia-accuses-australia-of-racism-in-extraordinary-un-broadside

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/alert-to-the-human-rights-councils-35th-session-32317?e=d1945ebb90

Aziz, MEA Laureate 2019, recognised as refugee in Switzerland from where he promises to continue the struggle

June 10, 2019

On 10 June 2019, RNZ Pacific brought the news that Abdul Aziz Muhamat, the 2019 Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, has found asylum in Switzerland. From Geneva he posted a video on social media to announce that his claim for asylum had been accepted.

Abdul Aziz Muhamat…”I have everything it takes for me to fight for the freedom of each and everyone.” Image: Amnesty International


See also: Manus Island police chief calls for state action over suicidal refugees

#MeToo movement leaders win Sydney Peace Prize 2019

May 6, 2019

Activist Tarana Burke speaks during the during the TIME 100 Summit, April 23, 2019,
Activist Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006. Source: AAP

SBS reports that the founder of the global #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, and one of the leading faces of the Australian movement, Tracey Spicer, have been jointly awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for their work in the #MeToo movement. [For more on this and other awards: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sydney-peace-prize]. The two human rights defenders have received the award for their work in revealing and protesting against sexual harassment, particularly the widespread 2017 investigations into sexual harassment in the media industry.

Tracey Spicer addresses the UsToo lunch at the Westin Hotel in Perth, 2018.

Tracey Spicer has been one of the spearheads of Australia’s movement against sexual harassment. AAP

Ms Burke said that receiving the peace prize highlights the prevalence of sexual violence and strengthens belief that the issue can be eradicated.  “The #MeToo movement will continue this work until we shift the culture to one that believes that every person, no matter their identity or circumstance, has the right to consent and safety,” Ms Burke said.

Ms Spicer greatly contributed to revealing sexual harassment in the Australian media industry, through work investigating multiple allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by Australian TV personality Don Burke.  Ms Spicer expressed her “tremendous honour” in accepting the Sydney Peace Prize alongside Ms Burke. “I dedicate this prize to everyone who is a survivor of sexual violence: your voices are being heard.” Ms Spicer also created Now Australia in 2018 to support survivors who have been sexually harassed, and to support the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment being led by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/civicus-publishes-report-on-women-human-rights-defenders-and-the-struggle-against-silencing/