The PNG Supreme Court has handed down a 5:0 ruling that the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal. It breaches section 42 of PNG’s Constitution.
Section 42 of the PNG Constitution provides (in part):
”42. Liberty of the person.
(1) No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except-
(a) in consequence of his unfitness to plead to a criminal charge; or
(b) in the execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of an offence of which he has been found guilty, or in the execution of the order of a court of record punishing him for contempt of itself or another court or tribunal; …”
The Supreme Court ruling includes the following passages:
“68. … on 4th February 2013, the UNHCR published a
detailed report on the MIPC and concluded overall:
“Assessed as a whole, UNHCR is of the view that the facilities on Manus
Island lack some of the basic conditions and standards required. In
particular, the closed detention setting and the lack of freedom of
movement, along with the absence of an appropriate legal framework and
capacitated system to assess refugee claims, are particularly concerning.”
69. In the circumstances, I agree with the contention of the Applicant that
treating those required to remain in the relocation centre as prisoners
irrespective of their circumstances or their status save only as asylum seekers, is
to offend against their rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the various
conventions on human rights at international law and under the PNG
The question now is whether Australia will respect the Constitutionl ruling of a 5-member bench of the Supreme Court, or whether it will try to find a way around it.
A few things are clear:
- The people held on Manus are innocent of any offence;
- They were taken to PNG by force, and against their will;
- They are being detained in breach of the PNG constitutional guarantee of freedom
- Two of them have died there: Reza Berati was murdered by a person whose wages were paid, indirectly, by Australia. Hamid Khazaie died of septicaemia because of criminal neglect, in particular because of the stupidity or carelessness of an officer in the Australian Immigration Department.
- Most people held in Manus have been there for more than a year, and (according to one doctor – see below) they are exposed to worse conditions and treatment than prisoners in maximum security gaols in Australia.
- Here is a statement by an Australian doctor who worked on Manus. It reveals scandalous mistreatment:
- I am a Medical Doctor, formerly employed at an Offshore Processing Centre (the “Manus Island OPC”) for some months. Whilst employed at the Manus Island OPC, my duties were mainly the supervision of the provision of medical care as provided by other doctors employed there, as well as the provision of medical care myself.
- My professional experience includes the provision of health care services in maximum-security prisons in Australia.
- On the whole, the conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are extremely poor. When I first arrived at the Manus Island OPC I was considerably distressed at what I saw, and I recall thinking that this must be similar to a concentration camp.
- The detainees at the Manus Island OPC are detained behind razor wire fences, in conditions below the standard of Australian maximum-security prison.
- My professional opinion is that the minimum medical requirements of the detained population were not being met. I have no reason to believe that the conditions of detention have improved since I ceased employment at the Manus Island OPC.
- The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of those detained in the Manus Island OPC. On a number of occasions the extreme conditions of detention resulted in detainees abandoning their claims for asylum and returning to their country of origin.
- At the Manus Island OPC, bathroom facilities are rarely cleaned. There was a lot of mould, poor ventilation, and the structural integrity of the facilities is concerning.
- No soap is provided to detainees for personal hygiene.
- When detainees need to use the bathroom, it is standard procedure that they first attend at the guards’ station to request toilet paper. Detainees would be required to give an indication of how many ‘squares’ they will need. The maximum allowed is six squares of toilet paper, which I considered demeaning.
- A large number of detainees continue to be in need of urgent medical attention.
- Formal requests for medical attention are available to the detainees. The forms are only available in English. Many of the detainees do not have a workable understanding of English and the guards will not provide assistance.
- The medical request forms are collected in a box throughout the week, and then on the weekend the box (together with its contents) is disposed of in a waste bin without having been reviewed. I witnessed this on a number of occasions, and understood it to be common practice.
- On some occasions when I was given access to particular detainees to provide medical treatment, they told me that they had filled out and submitted more than 15 forms over many months but until now had not received treatment. The medical complaints they had were serious and in urgent need of attention.
- I have personally witnessed a number of instances of trickery and deception on behalf of Manus Island OPC guards. Medical treatment is often used as bait for removing detainees from their compound where a particular detainee has complained about conditions. Once removed, and prior to the provision of any form of acceptable medical attention, the relevant detainees are transported to the local prison as a form of punishment for agitation.
- I often expressed my concern about the lack of medical treatment provided to the detainees. Never were my concerns addressed.
- And here is an account of the mistreatment of people under our care. It was written by a detainee (misspellings in the original):