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Torture: PM Abbott must rule it out

Torture: PM Abbott must rule it out

Tuol Sleng Torture Room - Cambodia
Tuol Sleng Torture Room – Cambodia

PM Abbott appeared to half-endorse torture when in Sri Lanka: CLA is calling on the PM to clearly and totally rule out torture…and Crikey agrees.

Torture: PM Abbott must rule it out totally

 CLA is calling on PM Tony Abbott to rule out torture absolutely.

If he doesn’t he may be putting captured Australian soldiers and kidnapped civilians at greater risk of being tortured.

“A PM can’t half-endorse torture without there being consequences, any more than you can just torture a little bit,” CLA’s CEO Bill Rowlings said.

 Tony Abbott’s policy statement, when asked about torture in Sri Lanka

“My government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”

– Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking in Sri Lanka on 15 Nov 2013

 Official Australian government policy on torture:

A person must not be removed from Australia to another country if there is a real risk that the person may suffer torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in that other country.

The prohibition on torture is an absolute right. This means it cannot be limited or qualified under any circumstance. For further information see the additional information sheet on Absolute Rights.

The CAT (Convention Against Torture: Australia is a signatory) explicitly provides that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, including wars or other public emergencies, can justify torture. It also provides that an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

 – official Attorney-General Department’s site on 15 Nov 2013:

 Civil Liberties Australia says that, as the Australian PM has apparently indicated that the euphemistic “difficult things” (code for ‘torture’) have happened and may be happening in Sri Lanka, it would seem impossible under international and Australian law for Australia to return any Sri Lanka asylum seeker to Sri Lanka.

Australians should also note that PM Abbott would apparently, judged by his 15 Nov 2013 statement, permit torture in Australia. “It is hard to believe official torture would occur in Australia, even though PM Abbott’s statement appears to endorse it, but you could imagine some state authorities claiming “difficult circumstances” in relation to bikies, as ‘law and order’ governments are treating them as “different” from ordinary Australians and subject to special treatment already,” Mr Rowlings said.

Civil Liberties Australia calls on PM Abbott to admit he mis-spoke in relation to Australian principles in Sri Lanka, and confirm that Australia does not and will not endorse torture in any country, including in Sri Lanka and Australia.

 –     Bill Rowlings, CEO, Civil Liberties Australia  18 Nov 2013


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Monday 18 November 2013

Australia now appears to have an asylum seeker-based foreign policy. Our relationship with Indonesia has already been damaged by the government’s ham-fisted efforts to implement its commitment to turn back asylum seeker boats. Now the Prime Minister has permitted his eagerness to secure the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government in preventing Tamil asylum seekers from leaving to curtail any Australian efforts to raise legitimate questions about the responsibility of that government for war crimes in the country’s long civil war (during which, it should also be remembered, Tamil separatists routinely inflicted appalling atrocities on Sinhalese Sr Lankans).

Further, in gifting the Sri Lankan government two patrol boats, it seems as though Australia is comfortable with arming that government despite ongoing concerns about its human rights abuses, which are by no means limited to Tamils.

In contrast, Tony Abbott’s Tory counterpart David Cameron elected to visit Sri Lanka but used his visit to direct confront the Sri Lankan government on these issues. The United Kingdom receives about the same number of asylum seeker applications from Sri Lanka as we do — about 2100 in 2012 compared to 2300 in Australia; in 2011, the UK received more than five times the number of applications for asylum from Sri Lankans that we did.

But worst of all, Tony Abbott appears to have allowed the issue to override Australia’s policy on torture. On the weekend, the Prime Minister stated “my government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”.

Australia does not merely “deplore” torture. We are a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, which states that no circumstances justify torture; the official position of the Australian government <>  is that the prohibition on torture is an absolute right. “No circumstance justifies a qualification or limitation of absolute rights. Absolute rights cannot be suspended or restricted, even during a declared state of emergency.”

Abbott appears to have directly contradicted that position. Today, Civil Liberties Australia has called upon the Prime Minister to clarify his remarks and indicate that our position remains that we never endorse torture. The Prime Minister should do so as quickly as possible.

ENDS Editorial

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