In the recently published Australian Human Rights Commission Report, titled ‘The Forgotten Children’, it was found immigration detention is a ‘dangerous place for children’ and it has called for a royal commission into the practice of putting asylum seeker children into mandatory detention.
The Report, which was the result of the 2014 National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention was completed and presented to the Federal Government in December 2014, was finally published on the 11th February 2015.
Some of the horrific statistics included in the Report reveal from January 2013 to March 2014, there were 233 assaults in detention involving children, 33 incidents of reported sexual assault, with the majority involving children and 128 children who harmed themselves.
Today, some 330 children remain in indefinite detention and more than 167 children have been born in detention within the last two years. The Report has made 16 recommendations including calling for all children and families currently in detention in Australia and Nauru to be released into the community within the next four weeks.
The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations.
The Federal Government has rejected the calls for a Royal Commission and denies that there is anything to be ashamed of in its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and although it is refusing to meet with asylum seeker advocates and concerned community groups, it claims children are fine and the system is working. There being no easy access to asylum seekers and no transparency, the Inquiry and the Report’s findings reveal a very story.
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce Chairperson, The Very Reverend Peter Catt, said: “We are failing child asylum seekers in the most morally reprehensible way under the current regime of arbitrary and indefinite detention. We cannot ignore our responsibilities and so we call for the immediate release of children from detention – and for those children on Nauru to be brought to the Australian mainland.”
In another story, on the 19th February 2015, the news broke an American military court had set aside David Hicks’ terrorism conviction and that he is now publicly affirmed as what he has always been claimed to be, an innocent man.
David Hicks was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay from January 2002 to May 2007 when he finally pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism in a plea bargain that suspended all but nine months of his sentence and which then allowed him to return to Australia.
David has always been open about his presence in Afghanistan and his activities with Al Quaeda prior to his capture and illegal detention. David’s imprisonment and ruling against him were based on charges for actions that were not illegal either in the US or in Australia – however foolhardy and reprehensible we might consider them to be – and David was subjected to torture and trauma while in the American military prison.
The Australian Government’s lack of support and assistance for him and their active resistance to his return to Australia will be a mark of shame on the previous and current Governments’ record. David will live with the impact of that obscene treatment for the rest of his life.
When the Federal Government was asked about the news, Australia’s political leaders denied they have any guilt or compassion over how David was treated, even though he has now been proved to be an innocent of the charges and that the imprisonment was illegal.
Our third story is the journey of Andrew Chan and Myurun Sukumaran towards an almost inevitable death by firing squad courtesy of Indonesian justice because they attempted to smuggle drugs nearly 10 years ago. This story raises once again our different experience of justice and the impact on our humanity. In recent days and weeks, the support to free these two men has increased and continues to increase, quite rightly, as Australians are horrified at the prospect of human beings being killed by state sanctioned murder. This reaction also acknowledges what the two men did was wrong and they need to be punished and be held accountable for their actions. However, the loss of humanity in reaching the decision to apply the death penalty leaves people, whether innocent of guilty, with no opportunity to change and be saved.
So where is our sense of social justice in our country? Leading lawyer Julian Burnside asked a couple of years ago, when did we become so cruel and vindictive?
My question is when did we stop looking for the good in people, and instead go for the simplistic responses that label people either good or bad, removing any opportunity for changing behaviour and providing redemption. As Jesus suggested, ‘let he who is without sin, cast the first stone’.
I sat in a courtroom in Perth a month ago, listening to a Magistrate, police and lawyers arguing over whether or not to apply a Conviction against eight Christians who had been peacefully protesting against the detention of children in our concentration camps on World Human Rights Day, 10th December 2014. The police alleged these eight Christians disturbed the staff in the office of Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs, by praying and singing hymns; and finally, for trespassing as they refused to leave when asked. This is because they wanted to know when the asylum seeker children would be released. The eight were charged with the offence of Trespass, strip searched and kept in the Perth Watch House while questioned before being released to appear at a later date in court. The Magistrate quite rightly, finally applied Spent Convictions.
I wonder if we haven’t all generously been given Spent Convictions by God for the way we live our lives in this world, our continued lack of compassion and disregard for humanity in the way we treat others and refuse to care for our world.
I mourn for our disregard of relationships and the blind and reckless damage we do to each other and God’s awesome creation. I pray desperately for our leaders as they refuse to see their own humanity.
On the World Day of Social Justice, on behalf of Baptistcare, we declare:
We stand in solidarity with all our communities and our sisters and brothers in Christ, with those who are struggling and unable to survive without help in this world. We will continue to support, advocate and lobby on issues of social justice through our own work and the services we provide to the elderly in aged care services, to those who live with disabilities and mental health illnesses; and across the country through the Baptist Care Australia network more broadly, offer services and take up the cause of justice on issues arising in our family services, asylum seekers services, domestic violence support services, education, health, poverty and community services generally.