Oceania Theater

Australia using Nauru as 'open-air prison'

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.

World Court turns down nuclear arms case

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Oct. 5 refused (PDF) to hear a claim by the Marshall Islands that the UK, India and Pakistan have failed to halt the nuclear arms race, finding that it does not have jurisdiction over the matter. The Marshall Islands was the site for numerous nuclear tests carried out by the US during the Cold War arms race, and claims that such experience allows it to testify on the danger of a nuclear arms race. The nation accused nine countries of not complying with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation (PDF). However, the ICJ can only consider the cases for Britain, India and Pakistan, as China, France, Israel, North Korea, Russia and the US have not recognized the court's jurisdiction. The Marshall Islands claims that these countries have breached their obligations under the treaty, which commits all states with nuclear capabilities "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

Australia to close Manus Island detention center

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.

Papua New Guinea rules 'Australia's Gitmo' illegal

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.

New Zealand: Maori elder issues TPP 'veto'

Kingi Taurua, a prominent elder of the Nga Puhi, an iwi (naiton) of New Zealand's Maori people at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, North Island, has sent a formal "notice of veto" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the embassies and trade departments of its proposed partner countries, and has requested that the Queen of Great Britain intervene on the issue. The document cites the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, and states that the New Zealand government does not have "due authority" to sign the TPP without the agreement of Maori elders, "which [agreement] has not been given." Taurua claims that the TPP would be void in respect of New Zealand's involvement as a result, and should not be signed. Release of the document sent by Taurua, entitled "Notice of Non-Assent to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and Exercise of Constitutional Power of Veto in Respect Thereof," came just a day before the TPP was due to be signed in Auckland on Feb. 4 by leaders from countries around the Pacific.

Fiji: not a 'natural' disaster

Authorities in Fiji are assessing the extent of the damage after Cyclone Winston brought winds of over 200 miles per hour, torrential rains and waves of up to 40 feet (12 meters). The storm—said to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere—destroyed hundreds of homes and cut electricity lines. There are reports of entire villages flattened. At least five people are dead by initial counts. The government has imposed a nationwide curfew and 30-day "state of national disaster," giving expanded powers to police to arrest people without a warrant. The storm moved westward after making landfall Feb. 20 in the north of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. It changed direction at the last minute, sparing the capital Suva the full force of its winds. (BBC News, Slate, Feb. 20) 

ISIS in Sydney?

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.

Rival trade pacts vie for Pacific hegemony

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)