In the latest developments of what some are calling #SmugglersGate it has been revealed that the Indonesia police are formally investigating the actions of the Australian Government and that they have photos of the dollar bills (and their serial numbers) allegedly handed to the boat crew by an Australian Customs officer; that a leading expert on international law has agreed that the Australian Government could be prosecuted for violation of international protocols; and, finally, a leading Australian lawyer has taken steps to initiate a class action against the Australian Government for its alleged crimes. Also, below, is an audio interview with one of the 65 refugees, who reveals he and the other refugees were taken to the Australian coastline by the navy before being made to head for Indonesia, and a letter to the New Zealand Government signed by all 65 refugees.
[Note: UndercoverInfo fully supports the free movement of people across the world, particularly those who are persecuted. This article is about the hypocrisy of a government that curtails such movement while, for its own ends, allegedly funds those who organise that movement.]
A three-page letter from the 65 refugees on Indonesia, describing in detail their ordeal at the hands of the Australian navy
A. Indonesian investigations
A source has showed Fairfax Media a photograph of the six stacks of 100 denomination dollar bills allegedly handed as a bribe to the six crew aboard the boat carrying the refugees. The photo of the bills show the serial numbers. The photo is with the Indonesian authorities (police), who are now formally investigating the incident to see if charges can be raised against the Australian authorities.
Mr Arman Yohanis, the captain of the boat that brought the asylum-seekers to Indonesia, confirmed that an Australian official called ‘Agus’ gave each of his six crew members $US5000 on condition that they never engage in people smuggling again. Mr Yohanis claims his boat was in international waters, heading for New Zealand, when it was intercepted by the Australian navy. The navy towed the boat to Ashmore Reef, which is in Australian territorial waters. There the boat docked just off the shoreline, though none of the 65 or their crew were allowed to disembark but were transferred to an Australian vessel (see audio interview below). After four days the navy forced the asylum-seekers to transfer again, over to two boats – Jasmine and Kanak – and the crew were ordered to head for Indonesia.
Here is an audio interview conducted by a New Zealand journalist with Nazmul Hassan, a Bangladeshi refugee and one of the 65 refugees forced by the Australian navy to go to Indonesia
As the boat carrying the asylum-seekers approached Landu Island (Indonesia) it became stranded on rocks. Locals – seaweed farmers – rushed to help. Crew members swam ashore and commandeered a fishing boat to rescue the asylum-seekers. Village chief Semuel Messak later told how 10 people, mostly women and children, were still stranded and that one woman was breast feeding. Locals rushed to help with more boats. Eventually all the guests were safely brought ashore. Once on dry land the whole village came out to help. Villagers gave them food and clothes. Mr Semuel handed out sarongs and his wife cooked noodles and fish for their guests.
Mr Hidayat, the Indonesian prime minister, has since commented that (ironically) the actions of the Australian authorities “could encourage people smugglers to smuggle more immigrants, hoping for payment”.
B. Legal challenges
In Australia, law expert Don Rothwell, has stated that Australian authorities could be accused of people smuggling over the alleged payments under an international protocol to which Australia is a signatory.
Also in Australia, leading lawyer, Rob Stary, has announced via social media that he intends to initiate a class action against the Australian Government re #SmugglersGate.
It is early days yet, but it would not be unpredictable if Australian prime minister Tony Abbott tried to wriggle out of this mess he created for himself by coming to a deal with the Indonesian Government and so avoid prosecution. However, if that were to happen it would only solve one aspect – the alleged violation of Indonesian law. That still leaves other legal avenues – in particular, alleged violation of international laws/protocols and Australian law (1958 Maritime Act, amended 2010).
C. Fate of asylum-seekers/refugees
Nor should this scandal detract from the wider and far more important matter concerning the fate of the hundreds of asylum-seekers being held by Australia in offshore detention centres. Over the last few days damning evidence was submitted to a Senate Inquiry that showed how refugees held at Nauru and Manus Island are being abused (sexually, physically and mentally).
Again, legal action is required to ensure these asylum-seekers/refugees are released. Such legal action could be undertaken by Australian jurists or NGOs in the Australian courts, or by international NGOs in the International Criminal Court. (See Appendix, below, for some of the international agreements to which Australia are bound by.)
The Australian Government has obligations under various international treaties to ensure that the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are respected and protected. These treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These rights include the right not to be arbitrarily detained. Australia also has obligations not to return people who face a real risk of violation of certain human rights under the ICCPR, the CAT and the CRC, and not to send people to third countries where they would face a real risk of violation of their human rights under these instruments. These obligations also apply to people who have not been found to be refugees.
In March of this year Australia was accused of systematically violating the international Convention Against Torture by detaining children in immigration detention, and holding asylum seekers in dangerous and violent conditions on Manus Island, a United Nations report found. Also, it should be noted that the Australian Government does not respect the international standard on protecting refugees of “non-refoulement”, which is a UN principle prohibiting expulsion to a country where they could face violence or prison.
In addition, Australia – via successive governments – may be accused of committing crimes against humanity in relation to its treatment of refugees at the Nauru and Manus Island (and Christmas Island) detention centres. In this respect, it is possible for Australia to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court, to which it is a signatory.
See also Human Right Watch comments on Australia’s refugee policy.