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Thursday, 5 April 1984
Page: 1307


Senator MISSEN(3.35) —I move:

That the Senate- (a) draws the Government's attention to the campaign by Amnesty International against torture and the evidence provided of the practice of various forms of torture in the 1980's in at least 98 countries;

(b) calls on the Australian Government to assert influence to dissuade governments from continuing to use or to connive in the practice of torture within their national boundaries;

(c) urges the Australian Government to support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for victims of torture; and

(d) requests the Australian Government to seek the expediting of the completion of the proposed international covenant against torture.

I trust that the motion will have the support of the Senate and will be part of the continuing campaign which Amnesty International is waging on the pressing problem of torture in this world. I will explain the points of this motion and make some general remarks about the position of torture in other countries. I will be supported by other speakers from all political parties who are also pledged to this campaign.

The Amnesty organisation has of course been campaigning against torture and other vices of a similar nature in this world for many years, but it is now launching a new campaign. It is basing that campaign partly on the evidence which has been accumulated. It deals primarily with torture in the 1980s. It remains a very bad and serious problem. Yesterday the Amnesty organisation published a report entitled 'Torture in the Eighties'. It is a horrifying record of the extent to which torture is taking place throughout the world. Indeed, torture occurs in 98 countries. Because there are many countries large and small it is important to realise that those countries in which torture takes place represent 85 per cent of the population of the world. They are the larger countries of the world; torture in fact occurs in all five continents, with the one blessed exception of Australia, the continent which has the opportunity to produce this book on behalf of Amnesty International. Thus it can be seen that the problem is very widespread in the world.

Since 1980 the Amnesty organisation on a world-wide basis has investigated and taken action on behalf of 2,687 torture cases covering a total of 45 countries. As honourable senators will see, there are many other countries where Amnesty would wish to take the same sort of action. Thus the first part of this motion is designed to bring forward this campaign, to urge people to read this report, to act in accordance with its recommendations and to try to stop torture throughout the world.

The second part of the resolution relates to the Australian Government and the influence it can exercise as a democratic decent country to help the termination of this 'disease' which is a breach of all the things civilised communities should stand for. We know that respective Australian governments from time to time have taken strong stands on human rights issues and they are to be encouraged to do so. I particularly urge this Government, as I hope this Senate will, to do so in respect of torture in accordance with the terms of this motion .

In the last few days there has been some Press speculation about changes in the present Government's policy in regard to human rights. There has been a suggestion that the Government's policy might be somewhat 'toned down' to quote an editorial. I was pleased to see yesterday the clear statement by the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, in answer to a question asking whether the Australian Labor Party would dilute its strong support for human rights in its foreign affairs platform. He answered in this way:

Accordingly, I respond by declaring that there is absolutely no change in the attitude or the practices of this Government as against the declared intentions, attitudes and practices of the Labor Party in this Parliament when in opposition .

The view which has been taken on a completely non-Party basis for years is that human rights remain an important part of foreign affairs policy for Australia. As one of the few democracies in the world, we take that stand most strongly. To complete that assurance one has only to read the statement which the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) made to the Amnesty group at its last annual meeting two months ago when he said:

The Government attaches a strong priority to human rights issues.

. . . .

The Government has pursued a number of cases of political prisoners and has supported relevant United Nations initiatives on human rights. We have expressed concern about human rights violations to a variety of governments of different ideological persuasions and in different areas of the world, whose relations with Australia are of differing degrees of closeness.

One welcomes that and also the continuing use of the influence of Australia in dealing with governments, particularly in respect of this problem. It is prevalent in nations which are close to us and countries with which we have strong economic and cultural ties. The third part of the motion relates to the support which we urge for the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a short statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs giving some information about that fund.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

UN VOLUNTARY FUND FOR THE VICTIMS OF TORTURE

The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture was established through General Assembly resolution 36/151 of 16 December 1981 to receive voluntary contributions in order to provide humanitarian assistance to victims of torture and their relatives.

The Voluntary Fund is administered by the Secretary-General with the advice of a Board of Trustees composed of five members appointed by the Secretary-General and acting in their personal capacity.

The Secretary-General stated in a message to the first session of the Board of Trustees that the Voluntary Fund would 'provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the peoples of the world that the United Nations, in addition to its role as the conscience of mankind in promotion respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, is able to respond in a concrete way to the needs arising from violations of human rights''.

So far the fund has attracted a limited degree of international support, mainly from Nordic countries as follows:

CONTRIBUTIONS/PLEDGES

1981 to 14 September 1983

Government

US$

Cyprus 500 Denmark 114,600 Finland 81,729 France (FFr. 150,000) +19,480.52 Germany 1/ (DM 150,000) -57,600 (Federal Republic of)

Greece 5,000 Luxembourg 2,019.84 Netherlands 45,000 Norway 100,000 Sweden 150,000 Individuals 200


Senator MISSEN —That short report points out that not a great amount of money has yet been contributed to the fund. The money has come mostly from European countries, particularly Scandinavian nations. Useful contributions have been made to the fund and it is important not only that torture should be stopped but that something should be done to help the victims of torture-not only the people who are injured but their families and others who suffer as a consequence.

The fourth part of the motion, with which I shall deal in a little more detail later, relates to expediting the completion of the proposed international covenant against torture. It has taken, one might say, a tortuous route in trying to get to the position of becoming a covenant. It has been discussed by international organisations over the years. It is sad to see the way in which reservations are held by some countries and the nitpicking that takes place as to the terms of a covenant which should be in existence. The adoption of a covenant alone will not be adequate to deal with the position, but it puts on an international plane the offence felt by the civilised world against torture. We should try to get such a covenant in place as soon as possible. Australia has played a fairly effective and positive part in securing this covenant and it now needs to be pushed along.

I turn from the motion to say a few words on the subject of Amnesty. No doubt other members of the Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International will give the Senate more specific details. I hope the honourable senators will read the group 's report to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Torture has been a long standing problem in the world. It is certainly not new. Up to the eighteenth century it was fairly prevalent. For many years after that torture declined sharply. Unfortunately, in the twentieth century, and in the time of the last World War, there were dreadful examples of torture, often leading to people's deaths. Following that war international organisations and the United Nations, in its Declaration of Human Rights, proceeded to take steps to try to ensure that this should not happen again. Unfortunately in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s other countries have come to adopt the practice of torture. Dictatorships of all sorts that prevail in the world have been determined to obtain information from prisoners and to use the torture weapon to do it.

The definition of torture adopted by Amnesty International is:

The systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain in any form by one person on another or on a third person in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter.

It is a matter in which the power of the State and of its police forces can be misused for the purpose of obtaining information. It is not only states that are the offenders. Often independent organisations within a country inflict torture. It is not merely a matter of dealing with states as the states do not often control the situation within their own territory. Amnesty International in its 1981 report said:

Torture is used extensively to obtain information, forced confessions and to punish, intimidate and terrorise. Torture humiliates the victim and dehumanises the torturer. Among the techniques reported during the year were: hanging people upside down and pouring water into their nostrils; electric shocks; beating the soles of the feet; smashing toes and fingers with a hammer; rape; forcing prisoners to eat live frogs and beetles; pushing people's heads into a bathtub filled with water, blood, vomit, excrement and food; deprivation of sleep; mock executions; and threats against relatives, including children. In some countries certain methods, such as flogging and amputation, were carried out in public.

That gives a rough series of examples.


Senator Haines —No doubt it was amputation without the benefit of anaesthetic.


Senator MISSEN —There is of course no benefit of anything like that. There is a great variety of modern skills which can be used in the carrying out of torture. The opportunity has been taken by some organisations to create pre-conditions for torture. The Amnesty report points out that the accumulated evidence also gives a clear picture of the pre-conditions for torture. Emergency or other special legislation that allows wide powers of arrest and detention may facilitate torture. Suspects can be held on the vaguest of suspicions. Crimes against the state are given broad elastic definitions. It states:

Torture often occurs during a detainee's first days in custody. Those vulnerable hours are usually spent incommunicado, when the security forces maintain total control over the fate of the detainee, and deny access to relatives, lawyers or independent doctors.

As we all know, torture has become a skill which many countries have perfected in recent years. The fact that torture has such influence in the world is known partly because of the work of the Amnesty organisation and its splendid research team in London and the work of other organisations, such as the International Commission of Jurists, who have managed to expose so many of the things that have been done. The work of such organisations also owes a lot to the bravery of informants, of victims, of people who have made statements. People have presented themselves so that doctors are able to see the results of torture. These things and the bravery of non-government organisations in countries practising torture have had an effect. People have risked their own lives and have put themselves in danger of being subjected to torture by standing up and speaking. There are many martyrs to this cause. However, it is fortunate that information has come along and often had the effect of causing governments to take action to save themselves from international humiliation.

Torture can never be justified. There can never be a case for torture. Sometimes states try to find explanations for torture and cite the security situation. However, I repeat that there can never be any justification for the use of torture. It is an offence against the inherent dignity of human beings and we know it must be stamped out. In regard to the form of such torture, there is a great variety. One sees in the report, examples of the blinding of people in Bihar in India when 35 people were blinded by the police. One can find records of the misuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union as well as the use of torture in Timor by the Indonesian authorities. The report draws attention to the statement in the secret Indonesian army manual of which Amnesty obtained possession which says:

If the use of force in interrogation is required there should not be a member of the local population present to witness it so that the antipathy of the people is not aroused.

I am sure that that form of explanation applies to many other countries too. One of the unfortunate situations is that whereas in democratic countries, such as in Europe, human rights organisations are able to do a lot when occasional incidents of torture are found, regrettably this is not the case in the Americas . The American convention of human rights applies to all the American countries, but little has been done there to curb the practice of torture. A change can occur when a government is overthrown or is voted out in occasional democratic elections. One then obtains some exposure of the situation in that country. Regrettably, otherwise countries deny any torture in their ranks. They proceed to support resolutions deploring torture in international assemblies while at the same time practicing it. I think only one country in South America, Costa Rica, has no evidence of torture being used.

Let me say this about the international efforts which are being made, which I hope we will support. For three decades all kinds of resolutions have been carried and all kinds of covenants have been agreed to, for instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Geneva Convention, dealing mainly with the prohibition of the use of torture in war; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of Article 7 which forbids torture. There are many other efforts. There are at the moment two new international instruments which are proposed and which will be useful in themselves and of which Amnesty urges support. The first is the draft convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which I have mentioned already, and which would give legal, binding force to the standards included in the declaration against torture for states which ratified the convention. It would establish universal jurisdiction, meaning that an alleged torturer could be brought to justice wherever he or she might be and whatever the nationality of the perpetrator or the victims. It could provide that no one shall be forcibly returned to a country where he might reasonably be expected to risk being tortured. That, in itself, would be a very valuable document to be accepted by the world community.

The second is the draft body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment, which would establish additional safeguards. It could provide, for example, that relatives should be promptly informed of the whereabouts of prisoners, that prisoners should be promptly informed of their rights, that there should be regular, independent visits of inspections to places of detention and that there should be inquests into deaths in custody. These are I think very important standards for the world community to adopt.

Let me say finally that in the report before us are 12 specific proposals which Amnesty makes and to which I invite the attention of honourable senators. I will read the headings briefly. They are all valuable suggestions. The first is: ' Official condemnation of torture'-that the authorities in each country should demonstrate their opposition by such declarations. The second is: 'Limits on incommunicado detention'-that detainees should be able to contact people outside who can help them when they are in prison. The third is: 'No secret detention'- that there should not be secret centres kept where people can disappear. Disappearance is one of the terrible problems in this world. If we do not know where the person is, it is very difficult to take any steps. The fourth is: ' Safeguards during interrogation and custody'. This is something which obviously needs to be improved in most countries. The fifth is: 'Independent investigation of reports of torture'-not by the Government concerned but by people and bodies and international bodies outside. The sixth is: 'No use of statements extracted under torture'-it being forbidden in law to use in legal proceedings those confessions obtained through the use of torture. The seventh is: 'Prohibition of torture in law'-making it a punishable offence which can be dealt with under criminal law. The eighth is: 'Prosecution of alleged torturers'-the idea of this being that there should be no haven for torturers, that wherever they are in the world they can be prosecuted for actions which are crimes against humanity. The ninth is: 'Training procedures'-it should be specifically ensured that officials who have custody of or who interrogate prisoners, do not use torture. The tenth is: 'Compensation and Rehabilitation'-for victims of torture. I have mentioned in the motion that we propose something of a practical use in that way. The eleventh is: 'International response'-governments should use all available channels through intergovernment mechanisms to investigate all reports of torture and to try to facilitate the stopping of it. The twelfth is: ' Ratification of international instruments'-such as I have referred to.

Those are the practical conclusions which this terrifying report brings to our attention. I see the media are here in no strength today. The regrettable thing is that the Australian media want to report this Parliament only when we scrap and squabble and not when there is some unity and some desire to seek out something of national and international importance. I hope the media will take an interest in this campaign. I hope they will take note of what people are saying here today, and will do their duty to promote in Australia a better knowledge of the situation abroad and add resolution, because it is political will throughout the world that will be necessary to ensure that torture comes to an end. We must have the political will. Our governments must have the political will. We must have some courage of our convictions when other people suffer for their lives for their convictions. I urge honourable senators to support this motion and to do what they can to spread the knowledge of this problem throughout Australia.