Transfield, the company which manages the notorious asylum-seekers detention centre at Manus Island, has allegedly agreed to return to Papua New Guinea the three guards employed by Wilson Security who are accused of the rape of a local woman after the father of the woman, together with other locals, hijacked a bus belonging to Transfield. The locals were angry that the three men had been removed by the Australian Government some six weeks ago, with no indication they would be returned to PNG for questioning by the police. The woman’s father told authorities that the plan was to retain the bus and another vehicle until the three Wilson Security guards were returned; also, that the local community are planning to set up road blocks around the detention centre to stop incoming supplies (and, so, effectively close it down). However, even if the three guards are returned – and there is some doubt about this – Transfield and the Australian Government could still face prosecution for conspiring to pervert the course of justice (see below).
UPDATE: According to PNG MP Ron Knight “Apparently Transfield or [Australian Department of] immigration are chartering a plane and… [the three guards] should be back in the country by the end of next week. They’ll be brought back to Manus and charged accordingly…. If they are not returned, there’s going to be a huge problem. That was the first step, grabbing those vehicles, the next step is cutting off the airport.” (Note: It would not be surprising if Transfield attempts to bribe their way out of an embarrassing court trial.)
The alleged rape took place over a month back, on 15th July. After the incident the woman, who comes from nearby Los Negros, was taken to see an International Health and Medical Services medical officer. However, the woman claims that no physical examination took place. Later she was taken to see the Transfield operations manager. Not long after that, the three men whom she accused of rape were quickly taken to Momote airfield and from there flown out of PNG.
A few days ago the Guardian published a video interview with the woman.
After details of the alleged crime emerged, Greg Barns, a lawyer and spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, stated “If Australian government officials participated in removing these men from a potential criminal investigation then they may be criminally liable in the same way that a person who helps an individual cover up evidence of a crime would be liable”.
In other words, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Manus Island provincial police commander Alex N’Drasal said the three men must be flown back to co-operate with the police investigation. He agreed that the Australian Government may well have conspired to pervert the course of justice.
Mr Barns poignantly added that the removal of the three men from PNG by the Australian Department of Immigration & Border Protection contradicted the Australian Government’s assertion that the offshore detention facility at Manus Island was under PNG jurisdiction.
Mr Barns said: “If these reports are substantiated, there can be no further doubt that Australia is in full control of the offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. It is further confirmation that, despite the contrary statements of Prime Minister Abbott and Immigration Minister Dutton, these centres are under the direct control of the Australian government.”
Note: the Senate Committee that conducted the Inquiry into abuse at Nauru detention centre found that Australia – not Nauru – is legally responsible for the abuses in Nauru detention centre, because it has “effective control” of it. The same would therefore apply to Manus Island.
While asylum seekers and refugees are in Australian territory or under Australian jurisdiction, the Australian Government has obligations regarding several international treaties to ensure human rights are respected and protected.
These treaties include:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
These rights include the right not to be arbitrarily detained. As a party to the Refugee Convention, Australia also agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of a refugee are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement. 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.
Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) articles 6 & 7, Australia also has an obligation not to send someone to a place where their life may be in danger or where they may be subject to cruelty or inhumane treatment. If it is shown that asylum-seekers are subjected to cruelty or inhumane treatment at Nauru or Manus Island then the Australian Government would be in breach of the convention and that would have an impact on the supply chain (Transfield etc).
A lawyer with the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, commented that aggrieved asylum-seekers have every right to complain to the UN Human Rights Committee, which administers the ICCPR and that a case could be made at the UN against indefinite detention on Nauru and Manus Islands in Australian-run centres.