United Nations

A corrosive influence

But just saying over and over again that you respect human rights doesn’t make it true, not for the innocent human beings warehoused on Manus and Nauru for the last five years, or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children being forced into prisons away from their families and communities at obscenely high rates.
All of the people suffering injustice right now in our community need action, not just words.”
...
“Victims of cruelty and injustice all over the world desperately need governments like ours to be part of the UN’s principled spine, not a corrosive influence gnawing away at the very foundations of human rights with their own hollow words and unprincipled actions.
— Daniel Webb, Human Rights Law Centre

Act by freeing all refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru

Prevention of Torture

Dear Prime Minister,

Now that Australia is about to ratify the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture), are you and Minister Dutton prepared to have Australia's places of detention monitored? The UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has said that where a country detains people outside of its borders (as Australia does in PNG and Nauru) then it must arrange for the detention centres to be inspected. Australian workplace laws for health and safety must apply in its offshore detention centres and these must be monitored. What has been put in place to make sure that the detention centres on Manus and Nauru comply with health and safety laws and satisfy the SPT standards to prevent abuses of human rights? Who documents and verifies Australia's compliance? 

Full responsibility

Dear Prime Minister,

What is your response to the statement made by United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, which is a direct and unequivocal criticism of Australia's refugee policies? Do not forward this letter to Minister Dutton or DIBP. Australia has been criticised at the highest level and we need your response.

There is a fundamental contradiction in saving people at sea, only to mistreat and neglect them on land. ... I urge Australia to bring an immediate end to the harmful practice of offshore processing, offer solutions to its victims, for whom it retains full responsibility, and work with us on future alternatives that save lives at sea and provide protection to people in need.
— Filippo Grandi, high commissioner UNHCR
Somali refugee Sabah holds up photos of her three children at a detention centre in Nauru, in 2014. Sabah, 28, had not seen her children since they became separated fleeing extremist violence in Somalia three years earlier.   © Panos/ Vlad Sokhin

Somali refugee Sabah holds up photos of her three children at a detention centre in Nauru, in 2014. Sabah, 28, had not seen her children since they became separated fleeing extremist violence in Somalia three years earlier.   © Panos/ Vlad Sokhin

End offshore detention immediately and bring all men, women and children on Manus Island and Nauru here now.

For the 190th man on Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister,

What pressure did Australia put on Fiji to get them to breach their obligations as a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention by illegally detaining Mr Loghman Sawari and returning him, against his will and his claim for asylum , to Papua New Guinea?

Letters to Tyranny #73

Dear Prime Minister,

In the draft report on the condition of the compounds on Manus Island the details of the appalling physical condition of the buildings and facilities have been compared to a poorly run maximum security prison and fail to meet even the most basic of standards. Australia is funding a detention centre which has extremely punitive levels of security which are illegal for a refugee camp.

When will you accept Australia's responsibility for the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru and start the long-overdue process of our international reparation by following UNHCR's advice: that "Australia accept all transferred refugees and others with international protection needs."?

Bring them here

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #59

Dear Prime Minister,

Perhaps the 59th asylum seeker on Manus Island is the man that Behrouz Boochani wrote about on September 24th. He needed hospital treatment in Port Moresby but his ticket to travel there was cancelled arbitrarily and when he protested he was put in jail for two days. In the letter I received from 'JC', Director ABF Ministerial Correspondence Section Support Group - Australian Border Force, 17 August 2016, he wrote 'All transferees at the Manus RPC receive clinically indicated health care, broadly consistent with Australian public health standards." This is a lie. No Australian has their access to medical treatment denied and then gets put in jail when they protest.

Your statement at the United Nations has had a direct, damaging impact on the detainees in offshore detention. Your actions are causing harm to vulnerable people who have asked for help.

Bring them here.

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #51

Dear Prime Minister,

It is hard enough to admit to being an Australian when terrible crimes are being done to keep refugees out of Australia but unbearably so to see you boasting that Australia's border protection policy is "the best in the world". To do so at the United Nations when the UNHRC criticises our policy of mandatory detention as "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" and in breach of international law, is incredible. You are a fantasist. And all the while that you are boasting about securing our borders from refugees you open the floodgates of unregulated trade so foreign capital can cherry pick our assets and Australian workers and businesses must compete in the race to the bottom for lowest wages and shoddiest products.

While you parade your self-delusions in New York, Nayser, a Rohingya from Burma waits, trapped on Manus Island, desperate to be reunited with his family in Australia.

Bring them here

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #50

Dear Prime Minister,

What is your response to the call by Chitralekha Massey, the Pacific representative of the United Nations human rights office, to show "political courage" and end the "unsustainable ... unnecessary detention of asylum seekers on Nauru"?

The 50th asylum seeker is Mamud, a stateless refugee from Burma, only 20 years of age. He was a boy when he was locked up on Manus Island. His detention is arbitrary and inhumane: "a violation" as Chitralekha Massey said. Close the camps and bring the detainees to Australia.

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #29

Dear Prime Minister,

Within the Introductory Note to the United Nations "Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees" [paragraph 2 of page 3] it says 

"... refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties include ... being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."

In the letter I got from DIBP the writer says that "Australia is committed to providing protection to refugees consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugees Convention." But indefinite off-shore detention does penalise refugees and is one of the penalties prohibited by the UNHCR Convention.

For the sake of the people on Manus Island and Nauru, including Mr XXX XXX, the 29th detainee, please stop these illegal and cruel practises and bring the refugees to Australia.

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #28

Dear Prime Minister,

In the letter I have received from the DIBP the writer ('JC') states that

If only that was true. You and Minister Dutton have repeatedly said that the refugees on Manus Island who can't be resettled on Papua New Guinea (which is all of them) will be sent back to their country of origin. Yet the very first part of the 1951 Refugee Convention says

"The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country were they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law."

Your statement breaks this international rule. We are obliged under the 1951 Convention to resettle Mr XXX XXX, the 28th man, and all the others trapped on Manus Island, to Australia. What is your time frame for doing this?

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert

Letters to Tyranny #15

Dear Prime Minister,

This letter is written on behalf of the fifteenth asylum seeker on Manus Island, Mr XXX XXX. The situation of Mr XXX and all the other detainees on Manus Island and Naura "has become increasingly dire and untenable, exacerbated by the indefinite nature of their time [there]." This urgent language is not mine, but that of a spokesperson for the UN high Commissioner for human rights, Ravina Shamdasani.

How quickly can you address the UN's concerns by settling the asylum seekers in Australia? Or is Australia to continue on its way to becoming a pariah state?

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert