Trafficking, mental disorder & sexual abuse in the ADF: The Human Rights Wrap Up

By Eva Csik and Bec Devitt
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14 July 2012

Vulnerable young women subject to trafficking in Queensland mining towns

According to the The Age, vulnerable young women from Southeast Asia are being trafficked for sex in booming mining towns in Queensland. Mount Isa police district Inspector Paul Biggin has said that women and girls who can speak minimal or no English, with very low levels of education, are coerced or threatened into trafficking and working on a fly-in, fly-out basis.

Report highlights prevalence of mental disorder in the criminal justice system

In the first Australian study to measure the prevalence of mental disorders among offenders nationally, around half reported to have being diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their past. The study was the first to use the Corrections Mental Health Screen on an Australian offender population. According to the study, of the half of offenders that may have had a mental illness at the time of arrest, 42 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men had no previous diagnosis.

Damning report released on sexual abuse and rape in the Australian Military

A report has been released highlighting the possibility that perpetrators of serious sexual abuse may still be occupying senior positions in the Australian military.  The report, prepared by law firm DLA piper, stated that, “From the early 1950s through to the 1980s, many boys aged 13, 14, 15 and 16 years of age in the Australia Defence Force suffered abuse including serious sexual and other physical abuse.” Defence Minister Stephen Smith has suggested that a royal commission, a formal apology or compensation for victims are possible Governmental responses to the report.

Chinese Government raises concerns of Australia’s treatment of Asylum Seekers and Indigenous people

In an annual meeting to discuss human rights, representatives from China have articulated concerns with Australia’s human rights records in relation to Indigenous affairs and asylum seekers. The vice minister of China’s foreign affairs department Cui Tianaki raised the issue with delegates from Australia at the 14th round of human rights dialogue on Tuesday. Mr Tianaki said whilst Australia and China hold different views on human rights, both nations need to respect the others position. The Australian delegation raised concern over China’s record on freedom of expression, the treatment of political activists and the use of the death penalty. Deputy Secretary of DFAT Heather Smith said the Australian government was addressing the standard of living for indigenous people but that more could be done.

Release of a Report on the Legal Recognition of Sex and Gender Diversity in the ACT

A new report by the ACT Law Reform Advisory Council has outlined recommendations to ensure the protection of the legal rights of sex and gender diverse people in the ACT.  The recommendations include abolishing the requirement for a person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery to change the record of their sex.  Dr Helen Watchirs, ACT Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner welcomed the report stating the proposed reforms will “address longstanding discrimination and human rights problems in the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in the ACT.”

The proposed changes would bring the ACT in line with the rest of Australia, which recognises gender identity in Australian passports without the requirement of sexual reassignment surgery and is consistent with findings of the High Court’s rejection of the need for gender surgery in the case of AB v WA (2011).  ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell said the government would consider the recommendations as soon as possible.

Muslim Human Rights group slams polygamy advice

The Muslim Women’s Human Rights group has criticised advice provided by Preston Mosque to a vulnerable women who was seeking advice on her marriage by telling her that polygamy is better the divorce. Joumah El Matah the executive director for the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights said she was deeply concerned about the advice as polygamy is not legal in Australia and did not reflect the growing push against it in Islamic countries. Joumah El Matah said it was important to keep in mind that monogamy not polygamy, is actually the norm in Muslim majority countries.

“The support for polygamy among the Muslim community we also believe to be extremely low, and I think generally among community it’s considered an inappropriate and distasteful practice.” The Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights was keen to contact the woman and provide her with alternative advice on her rights.

Jailing of disabled man criticised by lawyers in NSW

A lawyer representing bikie groups in NSW has said the jailing of a young disability pensioner vindicates concerns raised about controversial NSW police powers. The laws allow New South Wales police to charge people communicating four or more times with convicted criminals and could face jail up to three years. Last week, Charlie Foster a 21 year old from Inverell who has an intellectual disability and cannot read or write was sentenced to between 9 and 12 months jail for a series of shopping trips and walks with three friends who had prior convictions.

Wayne Baffsky, a lawyer for bikie groups said the charges show the laws can be abused. “This is the very thing police said they wouldn’t do, and now they are doing it, I don’t understand why people aren’t jumping up and down and screaming about this.”

Husband of asylum seeker held by ASIO to make plea to the Immigration Minister

The husband of Ranjini, a Sri Lankan refugee who has been deemed a security risk by ASIO will make a personal appeal to the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, to release her into his personal care. The mother of two boys has been deemed a security risk because her first husband who was killed during Sri Lanka’s civil war was a member of the Tamil Tigers.

Ranjini’s husband Ganesh, who has been granted permanent residency in Australia says his wife is suffering from depression and anxiety since being place in a detention centre following ASIO’s adverse finding.  There are more than 50 refugees who face indefinite detention because of adverse findings by ASIO. A challenge to their detention has been made in the High Court and a decision is expected within weeks.

Federal Government unveils plans for new surveillance powers

The current review of surveillance laws has led to fear by privacy advocates that civil liberties will be abused if the possible expansion of surveillance powers is to come in to practice. The federal government’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security has been examining proposed changes to national security legislation, which include data retention, the surveillance of Twitter and Facebook accounts and forcing people to give up computed passwords.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said that it was worrying to see a potential reform of mandatory data retention regime proposed which would include forcing telecommunication company’s, ISP’s and company’s hosting social media websites to hold data about all Australians for two years. Bernard Keane writing in Crikey said that the proposed reforms amount to a “truly extraordinary wishlist of surveillance and intelligence gathering powers that may be even greater than the Howard government’s anti-terrorism campaign.” Submissions to the inquiry are due by 6th of August and can be submitted here.

UN Human Rights Council affirms the critical role of national human rights institutions.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution on national human rights institutions reaffirming the critical role that they play in protecting human rights. The resolution was introduced by Australian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Peter Woolcott and seeks to reaffirm the “broad and strong recognition of the unique role and valuable work of national human rights institutions in building capacity and promoting and protecting human rights around the world.”

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson QC welcomed the resolution stating that it particularly shows “the important role that Commissions play as a bridge between the international human rights system and domestic systems for human rights protection.”

Feature image: Tuol Seng Prison 4 from Mark Roy

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