Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Some justice for the Pacific solution

Since 2012 the Australian government has detained thousands of refugees in a concentration camp in Papua New Guinea. The refugees have been tortured, denied medical care, and subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions in an effort to encourage them to withdraw their asylum claims and return to the countries which persecuted them. Throughout this, the Australian government has publicly denied that it is doing anything wrong or illegal. But now in an implicit admission of guilt, they've agreed to compensate their victims:

The Australian government has agreed to compensate 1900 asylum seekers currently or formerly held at the Manus Island detention centre, in what may be Australia's largest ever human rights-related settlement.

Lawyers Slater and Gordon confirmed the Commonwealth had agreed to reach a conditional settlement of $70 million plus costs, to be distributed to asylum seekers based partly on the length of their detention.

The Victorian Supreme Court this morning heard the parties had reached an in-principle agreement to settle the claim on behalf of 1905 current former detainees, though the settlement was not yet formally approved.

In settling the case, the government will avoid a long and potentially damaging trial, which was set to last about six months and reveal explosive claims about life at the Manus Island regional processing centre.

Of course, the settlement will say that the Australian government and its camp-guards are not admitting any sort of wrongdoing. But the fact that they're paying compensation shows that that is a lie: governments do not compensate people unless they have wronged them. They also don't settle if they think they're going to win - the usual pressure to avoid legal costs simply doesn't apply to a government with effectively infinite resources compared to the plaintiffs. So, by paying up, Australia is effectively admitting that its victims' claims are true.

Compensating past victims is some justice. But as long as the camps are still open, Australia's crime is ongoing. The only true justice is to close the camps, free the refugees, grant them all asylum in Australia - and prosecute those responsible for this criminal policy. And if Australia doesn't do the latter, then the international community must.