Written by U Ne Oo on 1999-11-29
Followings are excerpts from the newsletters of Australian Section of Amnesty International. The three reports about refugees mentioned are that of ASA: 26/12/99, 16/132/99, 16/13/99 and 16/14/99 of June 1999 regarding with situation in Karen, Shan and Karenni states respectively. For those who still have not obtained these reports, it would worth the while to checkout Amnesty Web site or at nearest Amnesty Office in your city. (You don't need to become members to obtain those reports).
I have also enclosed few posting regarding refugee determination process in Australia. This will certainly highlight the atmosphere of which refugees and asylum-seekers in Australia currently are under.
BUILDING SOLIDARITY WITH OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SUCH AS AI
I joined Amnesty in early 1994 as a member supporter to AI movement. By that time, I had already started my campaign work on Burma and Burmese refugees with the Burma Action (South Australia). Since then, I have participated in grassroots Amnesty groups in their campaign agendas on international human rights. Local amnesty groups here in South Australia, in some way, don't seem as vibrant in their activities as other social justice groups. Howevergroups. However in the longer run on evaluation, the human rights solidarity received from AI grassroots members are significant and perhaps the most rewarding of that membership.
To Burmese activists, when approaching organisation such as Amnesty International, it is foremost importance to learn about that organisation, its mandate and working rules. Firstly, AI is strictly non-government organisation, which does not seek support or funding from the governments: it operate purely on public donations. Secondly, it is impartial and apolnd apolitical human rights body. The AI, in principle, does not make political favour. In other words, AI does not take sides when expressing its human rights concerns.
Because of impartial nature of AI movement, it is safer for Burmese activists , who are also AI member, to work on Burma issues on different platforms. I, for example, never write letters regarding Burma under the name of Amnesty. In Burma case, the AI materials are utilised only as useful information. The same logic is applied in founding of NetIPR (Network forork for International Protection of Refugees) last year.
CURRENT REFUGEE SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA
As described in posting below, the Australian government treatment of asylum-seekers are far from being perfect. The government's strict application of refugee laws, combined with downright disregard to its humanitarian obligation to these asylum-seekers, have resulted tragic consequences for these people. Government's rhetoric of `get tough on illegals' combined with inhuman practice of indiscriminate deportations, such as Somalas Somali man and Chinese woman cases, certainly alarmed many human rights activists. Government exaggerated claim of the numbers of boat arrivals, with more than common sight of letting loose few boat people into unhabited-arid land and launching high profile `search', are anything but disturbing.
To my observation, the refugee movements by nature are massive and unpredictable. A true refugee movement would show much less concern for territorial integrity or domestic political concerns. The simple fact is the refugees wiugees will come when they have to come. Governments are thus better prepared to make proper reception instead of putting barriers when the refugees come.
Though alarmed and disturbed by Australian government's rhetoric on `illegals', I considered--i.e. up until now-- not worthwhile to launch a campaign on these matters since the numbers of asylum-seekers effected was still small. However, with recent few boat arrivals from Iraq/Afghanistan, it may be justified to mount internationally coordinated campaign action ( A total of 10al of 10,000 to be arrived Australia soon, according to the Immigration Minister's `Christmas wish list'). Solidarity on this matter will be provided through NetIPR.
With best regards, U Ne Oo.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AUSTRALIA NEWSLETTER
JULY-AUGUST 1999: VOL.17 NO.4
NEW REPORTS HIGHLIGHT ONGOING TRAGIC HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN MYANMAR
Two years after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) admitted Myanmar as a member, claiming that thisng that this would encourage the military government (SPDC) to improve its human rights record, the opposite has been true. The SPDC has stepped up its repression of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy and increased huge forcible relocation programs in ethnic minority states against the Karen, Karenni, and Shan peoples, mostly against rice farmers. Possibly hundreds of thousands are internally displaced within Myanmar, over 200,000 have fled to Thailand. it is now up to ASEAN to get serious with Myanmar.
Amnesty>Amnesty International has recently published three major reports on these ethnic minority groups, based on over 100 interviews conducted in February this year by AI delegates, of refugees who had recently fled to Thailand. Practically every refugee interviewed had witnessed extrajudicial executions, torture, and 'disappearances' of unarmed farmers, friends and relatives by the tatmadaw, or Myanmar army. Most refugees were required to undertake forced labouring and forced portering duties for several days every month which involvednvolved horrific conditions and meant that farms could not be tended.
Many civilians had been internally displaced for two years, having been forced out of their villages by the tatmadaw, and hiding in forest and jungle, where conditions were poor and it was almost impossible for them to farm. They also feared being shot on sight by the military because they occupied 'black areas', where the armed insurgents are allegedly active. Many other fled directly from their home villages in the face of village burnings, constant demandt demands for forced labour, looting of food and supplies, and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the military. All of these people were farmers who typically grew small plots of rice on a semi-subsistence level. Many said that their children had died in the jungle as a result of malnutrition and treatable disease such as dysentry. Both those in the jungle and in relocation sites have lost their land, livestock, and most of their possessions.
The Myanmar army has devastated the lives of thousands of Shan, Karen and Karenni Karenni people by targetting them simply because of their ethnicity or perceived political beliefs. Civilians are also frequently beaten while doing forced portering duties -- carrying equipment of Burmese troops on patrol. Some 300,000 Shan and over 20,000 Karenni villagers were forced from their village home into designated relocation sites where the military kept them, in the words of one former resident, 'like chickens in a basket'. The military have forced thousands of civilians, including children, to work on massive buildinguilding projects. An estimated 10 per cent of the work force at a Buddhist temple in Khunhing in the Shan state are children.
Those we interviewed reported shocking accounts of killings. In November 1998, a 45-year-old Buddhist widow witnessed her 18-year-old son, Saw Kyaw Nay, shot dead by the Myanmar military. In November 1998 after six SPDC soldiers had beaten her for refusing to porter for them, her son tried to intervene and was shot in the stomach. He was shot at very close range and died instantly. The woman cried as she as she reported what happened:
"I felt crazy when I saw my child dead and ran away with my other two children.. That's why I was so afraid and hid for one month[in the forest]... I had four tins of rice and mixed them with vegetables and boiled them in bamboo'.
It is up to the international community to ensure that the refugees have the right and ability to return home.
[THESE research missions are funded by AI sections such as Australia.
Without your continued support, we cannot fund these missions, nor write
the necessary reports. Australian representative Des Hogan was part of
the mission with AI's Myanmar researcher. Recent reports can be found on
AI's international website www.amnesty.org]
A SENATE INQUIRY INTO AUSTRALIA'S REFUGEE DETERMINATION SYSTEM
In may this year the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation committee opened an inquiry into Australia's refugee determination system. This inquiry is a direct result of a series of bungles by the Australian government that ended in twded in two publicly embarrassing cases. The first was the case of Sadiq Shek Elmi who narrowly escaped deportation in November last year.
In December 1998 Amnesty International, the Law Council of Australia and the International commission of Jurists called on the government to commence an urgent Parliamentary Inquiry investigating six points of concern raised from Sadiq's case. The government's response was a flat no.
However, in May this year Senator Brian Harridine broke the news of an eight month pregnant Chinese woman depman deported from Port Hedland. It is alleged that on her return she was forced to undergo an abortion of her unborn child. Amnesty immediately commenced intensive lobbying for a full inquiry to address the violations in this and other cases. Within seven days a senate inquiry into Australia's refugee determination system was announced, focusing on the six points of concern from Amnesty's December call, along with an investigation into other areas of concern, including the Chinese woman's case. At the same time, the government annent announced an internal parliamentary inquiry into the Chinese woman's case.
In June, Amnesty presented a series of nine recommendations to the senate
1. Amending the Migration Act to include assessment of risk on the basis of human rights violations covered by international treaties.
2. Providing a legal requirement that no person will be forced to return to their home country to face serious human rights violations.
3. Incorporation of the Tort the Torture and Civil Political Conventions into domestic law.
The Senate Committee is due to hand down its recommendations on 18 October. Amnesty International has expressed the hope that the inquiry will be non-partisan and that the government will use it as an opportunity to identify what is not working so that reforms can be introduced where warranted. The protection of human rights demands no less.
AIA NEWSLETTER: SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1999.
SENATE INQUIRY ITE INQUIRY INTO REFUGEE DETERMINATION IN AUSTRALIA
Subsequent to Amnesty International Australia's 40-page submission to the Senate Inquiry into Refugee Determination in Australia, an AI A delegation consisting of one staff person and three volunteers, has given a two hour oral presentation to the Committee.
The Senate Committee gave Amnesty a sympathetic hearing. We were able to update the Committee on the fate of some of the 23 cases we raised, and requested that the Committee take a direct interest in these n these individuals country. The Committee stated it would not be appropriate for it to support such cases.
In particular, we raised the case of two women whom the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and the government do not deem to be refugees. They now face deportation and almost certain death if returned to their country. We raised the case of the fifteen Somalis returned to Somalia via South Africa who have not been heard from since. We raised the case of case of three Somalis in Port Hedland we have grave concerns for and who have since been rejected by the RRT and face deportation. Additionally, we outlined the cases of three Tamil asylum-seekers deported to Sri lanka where they were handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department-- a police unit notorious for torture of Tamils-- at colombo Airport. We raised the case or the Iranian man deported to Iran who may have been imprisoned and tortured for adultery on return. We raised the fact that Sadiq Shek Elmi remains in limbo limbo in detention.
We highlighted the fact that we are dealing with these cases on a daily basis and as such AI A has a unique insight into how the system works in practice. This fact was appreciated by the committee, who asked us for more details on these cases and examples of how refugee determination happens in other countries.
Amnesty Sections from other countries have since provided us with information on how their refugee system work. This unique advantage of Amnesty International will allow us to make concrete procrete proposals to the committee about how to improve Australia's system.
But will it make any difference ? Will the government accept the findings of this Committee with a Senate majority of ALP and Democrats ? Only time will tell. For us, we will continue to concentrate on human rights and demand change. John Clugston is a retired solicitor and volunteer on the Refugee Team in Sydney. He was one of the AI representatives before the Senate Inquiry.