Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Australia's gulags are a crime against humanity

The Guardian has an in-depth interview today with Dr Peter Young, a psychiatrist who until recently was responsible for treating refugees imprisoned in Australia's gulags. He has some very unpleasant things to say about what the camps do to people:

The chief psychiatrist responsible for the care of asylum seekers in detention for the past three years has accused the immigration department of deliberately inflicting harm on vulnerable people, harm that cannot be remedied by medical care.

“We have here an environment that is inherently toxic,” Dr Peter Young told Guardian Australia. “It has characteristics which over time reliably cause harm to people’s mental health. We have very clear evidence that that’s the case.”

There is a long list of detailed criticisms, but fundamentally it all comes back to this: the camps are designed to inflict suffering in an effort to deter refugees and make them "choose" to return "home" to face torture and oppression. They reliably produce mental illness and drive people to suicide. And none of this can be effectively treated because people are still in the environment that is producing it.

Young calls this torture. He's right. It meets every step of the CAT definition:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
This suffering is severe. It is intentionally inflicted by public officials. It is inflicted for punishment, intimidation, and coercion. It is not incidental to lawful sanctions, but the whole point of the exercise. It is torture. And therefore a crime in international law.

Australia is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Torture, when "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population", is considered a crime against humanity under the statute. Australia's policy targets civilians and is certainly systematic. Australian Ministers and officials - and former Ministers and officials - may therefore one day find themselves facing trial in The Hague for their crimes.

But its not just international justice they should be afraid of. New Zealand claims universal jurisdiction for torture. Any Australian Minister or official who sets foot here is exposing themselves to prosecution. All it takes is for our government to grow a backbone, and stand up for what it purports to believe in...