By email to
Re: Australian Government Ministers breaching Article 7 of the Rome Convention
I write as a citizen of Australia, deeply concerned at the behaviour of ministers of our Federal Government; behaviour that I am effectively powerless to stop, but which I believe is so appalling as to be in breach of Article 7.
I am not trained in international law, nor a lawyer by profession. My belief arises from a reasonable interpretation both of the Convention, and the sometimes visible behaviour of our elected officials.
The series of steps taken by our government, over time, clearly show a deliberate intent not just to deter any people seeking asylum in Australia, particularly by boat, but to create that deterrence by wilful, public and publicised mistreatment. That mistreatment is barbaric, unnecessary, and is not tantamount to torture, it is torture. It is causing demonstrable psychological and physical damage to asylum seekers, up to and including death both by others and by their own hands.
The statistics on suicides and attempted suicides by adults, and self-harm by children – even pre-adolescent children, in whom such a thing is extremely rare – bear independent witness to the awful conditions, both physical and psychological, to which Australian ministers are deliberately and knowingly exposing these people.
Australia, as a developed country with a high standard of living, has no excuse for housing asylum seekers in conditions that would lead to immediate prosecution were they to be repeated on the mainland. To hold these people, and their children, in detention for months and sometimes years, with no prospect of a review of their cases, and no information, is torture. Their children’s education, future and mental health is being destroyed, and parents are suiciding because they believe their situation is beyond help.
Disinterested medical professionals have published reports that are highly critical of the standards of care provided, and the processes followed to assure even the basic health of asylum seekers, and the government’s response has been to abolish the health body and replace them with military doctors who are forbidden to speak. The same processes of secrecy, lack of access, and refusal to communicate pervade the entire process. The UN HCR and Amnesty International have both been refused access to asylum camps. Prima facie this is not proof of any acts against Article 7, however it must raise doubts when those impartial and respected bodies are denied access and there is significant independent evidence of persistent and deliberate maltreatment.
A man has been murdered in a camp (not by another inmate) while under Australian care, and others seriously injured, and many months later the criminals have not even been apprehended, let alone brought to trial. This is despite the fact that the murder occurred with eyewitnesses. Our ministers’ complete inaction in prosecuting this case – in contrast to the normal rule of law – again speaks for their indifference to the welfare of asylum seekers, or more probably to a deliberate intent to allow this unpunished violence and harm to further deter others.
The recent interception of refugees in Australia’s Contiguous Zone and their subsequent return to the country from which they fed – Sri Lanka – is another example of the Australian ministers’ flagrant disregard both for international law, and for the lives of asylum seekers. The interception in the Contiguous Zone led to claims from the Government that this absolved them of any responsibility under Asylum legislation and conventions, however their subsequent description as “illegals” and “asylum seekers’ by the same government, and their return to Sri Lanka clearly demonstrates that the government nonetheless was not conducting a rescue at sea, but a deliberate refoulement of fleeing refugees.
I believe that the many actions, and inactions, of Australian ministers present an unanswerable case for breach of Article 7, and I ask in all sincerity that you take speedy action on this to help us prevent further torture, suffering and death amongst innocent people whose only crime has been to seek asylum in Australia.
[Update 2014-07-12 I forgot to remove the Creative Commons Copyright on this article. I hereby place this article in the Public Domain and it is free from Copyright – Peter Barnes]