Tag Archives: Abuse

Los Desaprecidos: Enforced disappearances, a crime without end

“Many of the victims were so weak from torture and detention that they had to be helped aboard the plane. Once in flight, they were injected with a sedative by an Argentine Navy doctor before two officers stripped them and shoved them to their deaths. […] He estimated that the navy conducted the flights every Wednesday for two years, 1977 and 1978, and that 1,500 to 2,000 people were killed. ” (New York Times, 1995)

Today is International Day of the Disappeared, marking the tens or hundreds of people who have been abducted or killed and whose fates remain unknown. Enforced disappearances, forcible disappearances, or desaparecidos in Latin America –  where the concept first rose to prominence – refers to (in Article 2)

the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

Enforced disappearances were a substantial feature of the Latin American dirty wars, with estimates of over 16,000 people disappeared in Peru, an estimated  30,000  in Argentina45,000 in Guatemala during the violence of the 1980s and 1990s, and estimates of 15,000 to 109,000 disappeared in Colombia. And it’s not just in Latin America; according to the International Centre for Transitional Justice,

In the case of Argentina,

The pattern was similar for those arrested. Many were taken from their homes in the middle of the night, tortured at clandestine detention centres and then disposed of. After years of investigations, it is thought that some bodies were destroyed with dynamite and others buried in unknown common graves, but the majority were thrown from planes into the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition, women who were pregnant were often forcibly separated from their children, with those children being given to military families for adoption. In Syria, “More than 65,000 people, most of them civilians, were forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and August 2015 and remained missing, Amnesty said, citing figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a Syria-based monitoring group.”

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Enforced disappearance is like a kidnapping or extrajudicial detention, and likely also torture and/or extrajudicial execution, but it has the features of being committed by State agents or with their acquiescence, and a denial of the whereabouts or the fate of the person concerned.  It’s not like the situation of persons missing during armed conflict or natural disaster, because the person was generally deliberately abducted by authorities who then refuse to acknowledge having the individuals. It’s its own crime, not just kidnapping, torture or killing, even if all of these things also happened.

Enforced disappearances are particularly horrific because the circumstances of the person remain unknown. And the crime continues – with both the disappeared individual as well as his or her family – for as long as there is no resolution. An enforced disappearance not only removes (percieved) political opponents, it avoids the evidence and the witnesses and the international outcry, as a tool to create a climate of terror among family members or other activists, who may be forced to bribe middlemen for information out of fear of approaching the State authorities directly.

‘Detainees were squeezed into overcrowded, dirty cells where disease was rampant and medical treatment unavailable, Amnesty said, while those imprisoned suffered torture through methods such as electric shocks, whipping, suspension, burning and rape. “People would die and then be replaced,” Salam Othman, who was forcibly disappeared from 2011 to 2014, was quoted as saying in the report. “I did not leave the cell for the whole three years, not once … Many people became hysterical and lost their minds.”’

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On the human rights law side,  enforced disappearances constitute “a multiple human rights violation.” They violate the right to life, the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to a fair and public trial. These rights are set out in the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture. There is even a UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearances, an Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons  and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

A widespread or systematic pattern of enforced disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which provides that enforced disappearances are a crime against humanity “when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” In some circumstances, enforced disappearances may also constitute a war crime:  The Geneva Conventions also stipulate that persons taken into custody (combatants or otherwise) must not be murdered or executed without trial, must have due process.

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The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

After the PNG supreme court ruled in April that the detention centre was “illegal and unconstitutional”, we have been waiting with bated breath to see what convoluted legal explanation Australia will find in order to keep avoiding their responsibilities under national and international law. This week, after the leak of over  2,000 incident reports detailing systemic physical and sexual abuses, humiliating treatment and harsh conditions, and widespread self-harm and suicide attempts on Nauru, the Australian Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, and the President of Nauru have decided, respectively, that the reports were only “hype” or “cooked up” the reports just to discredit them. Of course, the standard institutional response to allegations of abuse, exploitation, or assault, particularly when perpetrated by one’s own officials, is to claim that the victim is lying and the allegations are baseless. And the fact that the official response notes that, “Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims – they are not statements of proven fact. The Australian government continues to support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru.” Although advocates dispute the characterization as “unconfirmed allegations,” the government response does highlight one salient point: that there was no effort to investigate or substantiate these allegations. Except when they want to file charges against someone for attempting suicide, like the Iranian asylum-seeker was criminally charged and ordered to pay $165 for attempting suicide (suicide and homosexuality were legalized a month later, in May 2016).

Dutton also accused asylum seekers of committing acts of self-immolation in order to get to Australia. He does not seem to take the point that people prefer to burn to death than to stay in indefinite detention as an indication that the situation is inhumane.

Now, more than 100 former employees from Australia’s offshore detention centres have called for asylum seekers to be brought to the mainland rather than sweeping it all under the rug with yet another inquiry. (see the full list). This, in a context where they might face criminal charges by Australia for speaking up. Their voices join over 1,800 academics and dozens of  human rights, legal, religious and medical groups that have demanded the Australian government put a stop to the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in its offshore processing regime.

There is some good news:,according to the PNG govenment (later backed up by the Australian government), Australia has agreed to close the controversial asylum seeker detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) declared unconstitutional earlier this year.As described by the Guardian,

The Manus Island detention centre has had a troubled existence since being reopened in 2012. In 2014 three days of unrest and an invasion of the detention centre by PNG police and others saw more than 60 asylum seekers seriously injured. One man was shot, another had his throat slit and 23-year-old Reza Barati was murdered by guards who beat him with a nail studded piece of wood, and kicked and dropped a rock on his head. PNG’s supreme court heard up to 15 expatriate and local guards killed Barati. Two local men were convicted of his murder this year.

The detention centre has also been plagued by consistent allegations of abuse and privation. Rape, physical and sexual assault and drug abuse are common, the centre’s water supply has failed, and detainees are fed expired food. Suicide attempts and acts of self-harm are common, and some men have alleged they have been beaten and tortured in solitary confinement.

Australia still claims that none of them will settle in Australia, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have highlighted that simply shifting them elsewhere will not work:  “These men should immediately be moved to Australia or a safe third country, not simply shunted down the road to a transit centre or moved to Nauru or Cambodia. Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already lost three or more years of their lives locked up in limbo for no good reason. They’ve endured dirty, cramped conditions, inadequate medical care and violence. Finally, it is time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claim that Australia has a “deliberate policy” of not addressing issues on Nauru as a strategy to “deter” further boat arrivals, as well as that asylum seekers are suffering immensely from inadequate medical care.

“Australian authorities are well aware of the abuses on Nauru. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and a government-appointed independent expert have each highlighted many of these practices, and called on the government to change them. The Australian government’s persistent failure to address abuses committed under its authority on Nauru strongly suggests that they are adopted or condoned as a matter of policy.”

“Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom,” said Amnesty International’s senior director for research Anna Neistat, who went to Nauru to conduct the investigation.

Continue reading The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

Trafficking and smuggling: a very short introduction

Lina comes from a poor family in Cambodia. At the age of nine, her parents entrusted her to an acquaintance who said she could find Lina work in Thailand. The woman promised to send Lina’s parents part of her wages to help support their family. In Bangkok, Lina stood for long hours outside nightclubs in the red-light district selling flowers and candy to tourists. Her trafficker took her earnings, and beat her when sales were low .

When Peter arrived in London, a man was waiting for him. He took Peter to Peterborough, the place of his future life and work. He was supposed to work for one Roma family and to live at their place in a small room with 4-6 other men working for them as well. Right away, they took his ID… Peter didn’t see his ID again. He became a person without identity, with no possibility to escape. He started to work with some other people, doing harvesting. They would work 12 to 16 hours per day, receiving poor food once per day and not getting enough of sleep at night. After working outside, Peter often had to do clean the family’s house. Members of the family started to be aggressive, threatening their “slaves” and blackmailing them.

Perhaps the most chilling is an interview with an imprisoned trafficker. He looks at the camera nervously, recounting his exploits with a shy smile… “I used my fist. I was, at that time, more youthful… So I beat them with my fists and my feet…” He giggles nervously and continues, “No, but I think that they will have this nightmare for the rest of their lives. Some of them manage to change, but they will never be normal women.” His lips twist into a smile, a slight shrug of his shoulders.

And this is a business that earns 150 billion dollars a year.

July 30 was World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. It’s a way to raise awareness, not in a student activist kind of way that will end in a change.org petition, but as an opportunity to discuss something that’s very important and also very often poorly described. When we talk about trafficking, usually two scenarios come up: migrants paying to be brought across the Mediterranean; and sex trafficking. A google search also brings up modern day slavery, child labour in developing countries, and other kinds of phenomena. The problem is, much of this isn’t actually trafficking. Or of it’s trafficking, it’s also other things.

1. Trafficking and smuggling are not the same thing

People smuggling is basically receiving money to move people countries where they are not nationals or residents. It’s criminalized in most places, and there is also a convention (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol) that includes an obligation to criminalize smuggling. But smuggling is solely about the “procurement of… illegal entry”. We are presuming that all of this were voluntary – if the entry were legal, it wouldn’t be a smuggler, it would be a travel agency. (Except, of course, if someone is a refugee, they may not be penalized for illegal entry, and frequently there is no legal avenue for refugees to use, so they must perforce use smugglers)

Trafficking, on the other hand, involves deceiving someone and exploiting them. The official definition is very long but very worth considering:

Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

So, people who have been trafficked have been (a) deceived, and (b) exploited, or intended to be exploited. As an example, if person A wants to enter country X, where they are not a resident or national, in order to get a better job and pays person B to take them there, that’s smuggling. If person A wants to get a better job in the city, but is tricked by person B, who instead transfers person A to country X where person A is forced into prostitution, that’s trafficking. A typical story to entice trafficking victims is to offer work in a foreign country, promising high wages and a good life. Frequently, the victim will incur “costs” for the journey which they are then expected to “earn back” by working for the trafficker or associates.

The two terms are often conflated. And in fact, a smuggler, who is transporting people to another country, might be transporting trafficked people (if the smuggler had no idea, it’s smuggling; if they knew that the person was trafficked, it’s trafficking). For example, a recent article from the Guardian talks about the high number of trafficking victims among migrants arriving to Europe:

“The trafficking of Nigerian women from Libya to Italy by boat is reaching “crisis” levels, with traffickers using migrant reception centres as holding pens for women who are then collected and forced into prostitution across Europe, the UN’s International Office for Migration (IOM) warns.  About 3,600 Nigerian women arrived by boat into Italy in the first six months of this year, almost double the number who were registered in the same time period last year, according to the IOM.”

2. Economic migrants and refugees are not the same thing, but both can be victims of trafficking

Economic migrants are people who are seeking a better life elsewhere. Refugees are people fleeing war and persecution. Sometimes, there is overlap, particularly in countries where poverty is caused by systematic negligence or targeting specific groups.

But both economic migrants and refugees often share the characteristic of being desperate to leave and, frequently, in possession of few resources with which to leave. They may be more inclined to take seemingly appealing offers of work elsewhere, or in their desperation place themselves in unscrupulous hands. UNHCR has quite a lot to say on the intersection of refugees and human trafficking, including highlighting the fact that some people may have started out as migrants, but fell victim to trafficking, and could be at risk of persecution if they were to go back to their home countries due to threats by the traffickers, which would then make them refugees. Not all refugees are trafficked and not all trafficking victims are refugees, but there is frequently overlap. The essential questions are: (a) why they left; (b) how they traveled and under what circumstances; and (c) what would happen if they go back.

Desperation also breeds exploitation:

Young people in refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk are being sexually exploited and forced to commit crimes by traffickers, according to a Unicef report.

The document, which draws on six months of interviews and is due to be published on Thursday, paints a disturbing picture of the abuse of unaccompanied minors in camps in northern France. It says children are being subjected to sexual violence by traffickers who promise passage to the UK.

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3. Trafficking isn’t only about sex trafficking

It makes for the best headlines and the most salacious stories, but there are lots of kinds of trafficking. Forced labour takes different forms, including debt bondage, trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The victims are the most vulnerable – women and girls forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers kept there by clearly illegal tactics and paid little or nothing.  Forced labour and modern-day slavery account for almost 70 percent of trafficked persons: almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour, trapped in jobs which they were coerced or deceived into and which they cannot leave. That’s approximately the population of Switzerland and Belgium combined (or 3 out of every 1,000 people).

Facts and figures

  • Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
  • Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups.
  • Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
  • Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
  • Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.
  • 18.7 million (90 %) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Of these, 4.5 million (22 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million (68 per cent) are victims of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing.
  • 2.2 million (10%) are in state-imposed forms of forced labour, for example in prisons, or in work imposed by the state military or by rebel armed forces.
  • 5.5 million (26 %) of victims are below 18 years.
  • 9.1 million victims (44 %) have moved either internally or internationally. The majority, 11.8 million (56 %), are subjected to forced labour in their place of origin or residence. Cross-border movement is heavily associated with forced sexual exploitation.

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4. Trafficking happens right in your backyard: in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere

According to IOM, the Developed Economies and European Union have 1.5 million (7 per cent) forced labourers. “EU authorities registered 15,846 victims of human trafficking in 2013-14, including 2,375 children, but the report’s authors believe the true number of victims is far higher. More than two-thirds (67%) of people were trafficked into sex work; about one-fifth (21%) were put into forced labour, often as agricultural workers, a form of slavery that disproportionately affected men. The remainder of trafficking victims faced an equally grim catalogue of exploitation, ranging from domestic servitude to forced begging. […] More than two-thirds of the identified victims were EU nationals, with the largest numbers coming from Romania, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland. The remainder came from all over the world, with Nigerians, Chinese and Albanians especially prominent.”

Additional examples:

 

 

 

Articles of interest:

 

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Focus on Australia: Go to Hell, go directly to Hell. Do not pass go, do not collect asylum in Australia

Photo: Australian Refugee Council’s 2016 calendar.

 

Australia: Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru (Human Rights Watch / Amnesty)

About 1,200 men, women, and children who sought refuge in Australia and were forcibly transferred to the remote Pacific island nation of Nauru suffer severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The Australian government’s failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat.

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans. They endure unnecessary delays and at times denial of medical care, even for life-threatening conditions. Many have dire mental health problems and suffer overwhelming despair – self-harm and suicide attempts are frequent. All face prolonged uncertainty about their future.

“Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,” said Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, who conducted the investigation on the island for the organization. “Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.”

By forcibly transferring refugees and people seeking asylum to Nauru, detaining them for prolonged periods in inhuman conditions, denying them appropriate medical care, and in other ways structuring its operations so that many experience a serious degradation of their mental health, the Australian government has violated the rights to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, and from arbitrary detention, as well as other fundamental protections, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

‘We are dead souls in living bodies’: Australia accused of abusing refugees (CNN)

Daily violence, suicide attempts and children left without medical treatment were among some of the allegations documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during a visit to Australia’s detention center on the remote Pacific Island of Nauru in July.

Australia Allows Abuse of Refugees to Deter Others, Rights Groups Say (NYT)

 “The Australian government is commissioning the abuse of these people,” Anna Neistat, a senior director for research at Amnesty International who spent five days on Nauru in July, said by telephone from Paris on Wednesday. “It pays for the companies that detain the refugees, it pays for the guards, and it fails to provide adequate medical care. Australian taxpayers are funding it. And the world does not know this place exists.”

See also: Australia deliberately ignores refugee abuse: report (Al Jazeera)

Two leading rights groups accuse Australia of ignoring abuse to deter people from trying to travel to the country.

Australia – liable for criminal prosecution

It should be noted that while Australia’s policies might be among the more egregious, few Western countries have clean hands when it comes to treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches international law, amounting to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and that men, women and children are held in violent and dangerous conditions.

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It’s not just in Greece that refugees are stranded (IRIN)

Indonesia had long been a transit country for thousands of asylum seekers trying to reach Australian shores. But Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, policing its waters and turning back boats with such efficiency that it has all but blocked off the route. Several hundred new asylum seekers, however, are still arriving in Indonesia every month. An ever-increasing number are now spending years in limbo in a country that neither recognises them as refugees nor offers any possibility of local integration.  Resettlement to a third country is the only option for most of the nearly 14,000 asylum seekers and refugees now stranded in Indonesia (up from 10,000 two years ago). Australia used to be the country that accepted the majority of refugees in Indonesia for resettlement, but now it only takes those who registered there before July 2014.  Other countries with resettlement programmes, many of them preoccupied with the refugee exodus from Syria, have done little to help.  With no right to work and little support available from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, many new arrivals simply hand themselves over to the Indonesian authorities knowing that at least they’ll be fed and sheltered while they’re detained.

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Australia ordered to resettle nearly 900 asylum seekers held on Manus Island detention centre after PNG ruled the centre illegal (Trust.org)

The asylum seekers come from across the Middle East and Asia predominately, with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan accounting for the bulk. Some have been held in detention for several years. Lawyers for the 898 Manus island detainees have asked the Supreme Court for compensation of 1,500 kina ($462.75) for every day they were held illegally. The Supreme Court said it would call on Australia to provide a representative on Thursday to provide details on a resettlement plan.

See also: The cost of Australia’s asylum policy

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 Australia (US State Department)

The main human rights problems were domestic violence against women and children, particularly in indigenous communities; indigenous disadvantage; and policies affecting asylum seekers, including detention and detention center conditions for some attempting to reach the country by sea.

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Continue reading Focus on Australia: Go to Hell, go directly to Hell. Do not pass go, do not collect asylum in Australia