Australians don’t torture. But what if we do?

The week before last, Australians were outraged when our news was flooded with photos from Indonesia of a police chief posing with the two leaders of the Bali Nine, as they were being transported to a new location for execution.

We were outraged because we rightly expect people to be treated with dignity and respect. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reportedly hauled the Indonesian ambassador in to officially complain about the “degrading treatment” of the two men.

And yet this week, when the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report on “torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” which contained reference to a number of incidences in which Australia is said to have breached the UN Convention Against Torture, rather than calling for something to be done about this immediately, Abbott instead said that he was “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations“.

There was no outrage.  No call for an Inquiry.There wasn’t even much media attention about it at all.  The main story from the media perspective seemed to be about Abbott and his criticism of the UN, rather than the torture itself.

What does the UN report say?

The report itself lists a number of incidents which it says breach the Convention against Torture (which we signed in 1989).  One incident describes two asylum seekers on Manus Island being tied to chairs for a number of hours and threatened with physical violence and rape if they refused to retract a report they had made.

Why no outrage?

In terms of degrading treatment, our treatment of asylum seekers is arguably significantly worse than the photo incident we took Indonesia to task for the week previously, and yet other than noise from some groups like the Asylum Seeker’s Resource Centre – the silence has been deafening.

In fact, when I mentioned this incident during the week on twitter and FB, a number of people assumed I was exaggerating, and protested that Australia doesn’t torture.

Why do we hold ourselves to a lower standard?

It’s often far easier to be critical of others than to be critical of ourselves.  Aussies typically see ourselves as ‘good guys’ – as fair, decent, compassionate and kind.  So when we hear these stories, it’s almost as if they don’t compute.  They can’t be true, because they aren’t who we are – it doesn’t gel with how we see ourselves.

But what if they are true?  What if torture is being done in our name?  Certainly, the UN has concluded that there are a number of incidents where we have breached the Convention against Torture.  And even Abbott cannot claim that the UN are partisan.

We can’t continue to be blind to this

The torture of asylum seekers, the sexual abuse of their children – this is all being done in our name, and on our watch.  We should be as outraged about our own treatment of people we hold in detention as we are about other country’s treatment of Australians.  Not to do so is the height of hypocrisy, and quite frankly we are better than that – or at least we should be.

A much oft quoted phrase from last century is:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

So what to do?  Make sure people you know are aware of what is going on.  If you feel strongly about it, write to your local member – it only takes a few minutes to google their email address.  Your opinion – public opinion – makes a difference,  If you think this is important, let your voice be heard.


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