Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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/]

———–

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

———————————–

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/

Anne Gallagher new director-general of Commonwealth Foundation

April 24, 2019

Anne Gallagher
Anne Gallagher

The Commonwealth Foundation, which supports civil society organisations throughout the Commonwealth, has appointed Anne Gallagher as its next director general. Gallagher, president of the International Catholic Migration Commission, will relocate from Australia to take up the London-based role for an initial four-year term from June. She will succeed Vijay Krishnarayan, who is stepping down after completing the maximum of two terms.

Before joining the ICMG, Gallagher, a lawyer by training, worked at the United Nations in roles including special adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has also held positions including co-chair of the International Bar Association’s Presidential Task Force Against Human Trafficking and been a member of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration.

Gallagher said in a statement “As the civil society voice of the Commonwealth, the foundation has played a vital role in advancing core Commonwealth values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law…That role will continue to be critical as we move into a future where truly inclusive multilateral cooperation is becoming ever more urgent.

https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/anne-gallagher-appointed-director-general-commonwealth-foundation/management/article/1582715

Pacific human rights defenders can do more to deal with extractive industries

March 7, 2019

Patrick Earle, the director of the Diplomacy Training Programme.

Patrick Earle, the director of the Diplomacy Training Programme. Photo: RNZ Pacific

The Australia-based Diplomacy Training Programme offers education and training, as well as capacity-building for NGOs, human rights defenders, and community advocates.

The NGO turns 30 this year, and its director Patrick Earle said it is refocusing its work on the Pacific region. “Because we feel there is a lot of vulnerability. There’s a lot of economic activity. A lot of people see the Pacific as a place they can take things from, and take things from in a way that doesn’t recognise standards of human rights that are accepted internationally,” Patrick Earle said.

Mr Earle said if local people gain better understanding of their rights, and of the responsibilities of governments and companies, they will be in a better position to negotiate better outcomes from local development. Mr Earle said that in the Pacific, people tended to talk about victims of development rather than beneficiaries of development. “So where people aren’t giving their free, prior, informed consent based on both knowledge of their rights but also knowledge of the outcomes of particular forms of development, then we see very negative impacts that can feed into community conflict, that can feed into environmental damage, a whole wide range of issues,.

Mr Earle said that his organisation’s work in human rights in the Pacific was revealing a pattern of issues particularly in the extractive industries. He also mentioned concerns around deep sea mining, concerns about labour in fisheries, and treatment of migrant or seasonal workers. “There’s a wide range of issues, but there’s very little knowledge and awareness of the international standards that people can use to try and shape their development.”

https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/383669/pacific-communities-urged-to-hold-companies-and-governments-accountable

MEA laureate Abdul Aziz addresses UN Human Rights Council on off-shore refugee policy

March 2, 2019

Abdul Aziz Muhamat.
Abdul Aziz Muhamat. Source: UN

SBS news reports that award-winning Manus Island detainee Abdul Aziz Muhamat has spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council over Australia’s ‘cruel’ asylum seeker policy. Speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Law Centre, the 25-year-old said: “After 6 years, we deserve our lives back and a future. We urge your mandates to take this up with the Australian government, which deserves to be held accountable by this Council.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/18/aziz-thank-you-for-the-attention-but-now-i-have-go-back-to-detention/]

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FHumanRightsLawCentreHRLC%2Fvideos%2F2138107972933595%2F&show_text=0&width=560

We have no rights. We are not safe. We cannot go to Australia, or elsewhere, because the Australian Government will not allow it. We cannot go home, as it is unsafe. We are all sick and we have lost hope. We are in limbo.” He said the impact of six years of Australia’s offshore detention policy had exacted a physical and mental toll.

As the Australian Government sits on the UN Human Rights Council, professing its commitment to human rights, it is indefinitely imprisoning nearly 1000 men and women in offshore refugee camps on Nauru and Manus,” said HRLC Legal Director Edwina MacDonald.

Aziz: thank you for the attention but now I have go back to detention…

February 18, 2019

Last Wednesday, 13 February 2019, Abdul Aziz Muhamat was awarded the 2019 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defender in Geneva. Some time earlier Behrouz Boochani was awarded the Australian Victorian Prize for Literature. What they have in common is that they are detained – for almost 6 years – on Manus Island under Australia’s off-shore refugee policy.  Their stories testify to the cruelty of this regime and the humanitarian deficiency of a country that claims a strong liberal tradition and is itself a nation based on immigration. Successive governments have defended this policy as necessary to stop trafficking although it is hard to see how forced stays of such length would attract anybody except the most desperate refugees. And anyway even those recognized as refugees would not be allowed to settle in Australia!

Aziz’ impassioned acceptance speech in Geneva, spoke of the solidarity he feels for his fellow detainees in the face of daily humiliating and degrading treatment. Therefore he vowed to return to his detention centre in the Pacific, return to be a number (“On the island, officials refer to me as QNK002. I have no identity other than that number“). See:

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