Australia is using the island of Nauru as an "open-air prison," putting refugees and asylum seekers through an abusive processing system as a means to prevent immigration, according to a report (PDF) released by Amnesty International Oct. 17. The report charges that Australia has ignored the 1951 Refugee Convention (PDF) by subjecting asylum seekers and refugees to "egregious abuses," essentially trapping them on the remote island. The report includes dozens of interviews with refugees, documenting claims of mental health issues, suicide attempts and attacks at the hands of Nauru citizens. It describes inadequate and often "deeply humiliating and traumatizing" medical treatment, and abuses carried out against children, including physical abuse from staff contracted by Australia, and the denial of their right to education. The report calls upon the Australian government to ensure the safety and well-being of refugees, and increase access to existing migration programs.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced Aug. 17 that the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea plan to close the controversial Manus Island detention center. Since 2012 Australia has sent asylum seekers to offshore detention centers where they have been subjected to inhumane treatment. Human rights groups have brought light to the physical and sexual abuse faced by these individuals, which has created pressure for reform. Although there has been an agreement to close the center, Australia continues to state it will refuse to accept the detainees held there. There is no time frame on the process, which has led to skepticism.
Police arrested 65 protesters who briefly shut down the port at Newcastle, NSW, Australia's biggest coal export terminal, on May 8. Hundreds of kayaks and boats blocked the entrance to Newcastle harbor to stop coal ships, while another group blocked rail lines on the city's northwest. Australia has seen numerous anti-mining direct action campaigns in recent years, but this was part of a coordinated global direct action campaign against fossil fuels. Actions are taking place in at least 12 countries under the Break Free From Fossil Fuels campaign. A similar flotilla action is planned for the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal in Vancouver, BC. In Albany, NY, people from across the Northeast gathered May 14 to block oil trains along the banks of the Hudson River, while Denver saw a protest march against fracking in Colorado. Actions are also planned for Quito to protest the opening of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park to oil drilling. (The Guardian, May 8; Burnaby Now, 24 Hours, BC, May 4; BFFF)
The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled April 26 that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea's constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said that the ruling, "does not alter Australia's border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia." There are currently about 850 detainees on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.
As readers are doubtless aware, an unknown militant is currently holding a number of hostages at a Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney, and forcing them to display a jihadist flag in the store's window. There is much online controversy about exactly which faction's flag it is. The Sydney Morning Herald identifies it as the banner of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and contrasts it with those flown by ISIS and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The report says Somalia's Shabab is also now flying the ISIS flag, which may mark another affiliate for the "Islamic State"—which would make four by our count. We have noted that protesters are on trial in Lebanon for having burned the ISIS flag, ostensibly because it includes the Arabic text of the Shahada or declaration of Muslim faith. These are all variations on the "Tawhid flag" that has been adopted by Islamists throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Given the franchise model of the jihadist networks, it really doesn't make that much difference which faction the Sydney militant is associated with, or if he is just a freelancer.
Australian citizen David Hicks filed a motion (PDF) to dismiss his conviction in the US Court of Military Commission Review on Aug. 20 after pleading guilty in 2007 for war crimes that took place before 2001 in exchange for his release. Hicks was captured in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2011, and brought to the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay the day that it opened. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Joseph Margulies filed a motion asking the military commission to vacate Hicks' conviction for "material support for terrorism," following the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit's 2012 decision in Hamdan v. United States (PDF), which held that material support for terrorism is not a war crime and, thus, is beyond the jurisdiction of military commissions. Hicks' original appeal in November was stayed pending the ruling in Al-Bahlul v. United States (PDF), which similarly held last month that material support is not a war crime and cannot be tried by military commission. Hicks was the first person to be convicted in a military commission. After his release from Guantánamo, Hicks returned to Australia under a one-year gag order that prohibited him from speaking to the media. As part of his plea, he was also prevented from taking legal action against the US and required to withdraw allegations that the US military abused him.
In a move being openly portrayed as part of a race with the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, China has set up a working group to study the feasibility of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host. Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, assured: "We think there will be no conflict between the FTAAP and the region's other FTAs under discussion." But reports note that the news comes just as progress of the TPP has snagged over Japanese insistence on protecting its agricultural and automotive sectors. Chinese President Xi Jinping in October said at the APEC business forum in Indonesia that Beijing will "commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties"—an obvious veiled criticism of the TPP. (Tax News, May 5; AFP, April 30)
The much-hyped "Polar Vortex" that plunged much of North America into dangerously low temperatures is giving the climate change denialist crowd an opportunity to gloat—and, typically, display their ignorance. Bloomberg on Jan. 7 presented a sneering Tweet from Donald Trump dismissing global warming as "bullshit" because the "planet is freezing." But the Bloomberg account, as well as a video on the Greenpeace Blog, quotes Rutgers University climate researcher Jennifer Francis explaining how the Vortex was likely unleashed by—yup, global warming! It seems that the Jet Stream, which normally serves as a boundary separating cold air to the north from warm air to the south, is being destabilized; receding arctic sea ice lessens the temperature difference either side of the Stream, thereby slowing its velocity and causing large loops and meanders to form, and even for it to get "stuck." When this happens, North America and Europe are going either into extreme heat or extreme cold, depending on where the jet gets jammed. Recent record-breaking highs in Chicago and Fairbanks, as well as shriveling heat waves across the Great Plains, may have been caused by the same phenomenon now sending the mercury plunging in the Midwest and Northeast.