Seven victims of abuse are a shameful testament to the Howard Government's hypocrisy.
The members of the Howard Government care profoundly about the human rights of Iraqis. Really they do. Just listen to Alexander Downer. Every day in question time, Downer arranges to have himself asked about the humanitarian horrors of the Iraqi regime. Yesterday, the subject was the abuse of women.
"Like Iraqis generally," he began, "women are subject to a range of degrading human rights abuses, such as prolonged imprisonment without trial, forced resettlement, torture and, of course, disappearances. "Some have been detained and tortured because they were relatives of well-known Iraqi opposition activists." He cited case studies, including this one: "In 2000 a former army general who fled Iraq in 1995 and joined the Iraqi opposition was sent a videotape showing the rape of a female relative The way these women were treated, he said, "would, I think, shock any decent human being". Who would argue?
Now, let's look at another case study which Downer did not mention, of appalling treatment of Iraqi women. Seven women, separated from their husbands, denied contact, imprisoned without having committed any crime and without recourse to legal representation, psychologically tortured and facing forced resettlement. They are living in degrading conditions, without running water, on one meal a day and have been unable to wash for weeks at a time. They are held by the Australian Government in Nauru.> By coincidence, a Senate estimates committee was hearing about these women even as Downer was piously declaring the Government's humanitarian concerns in question time. The husbands of the tragic seven are already in Australia, having demonstrated, as they say, a "well-founded fear of persecution", and granted refugee status as a result. They arrived before the Tampa sailed over the horizon, before the Government came up with the so-called Pacific Solution aimed at winning an election by denying human rights to refugees. The women arrived after. The Senate committee was told by an Immigration Department officer that because Australia did not hold with what is called "derivative refugee status" the women could not claim to be in fear of persecution just because their husbands were. So the Government wants them to go back - by force, if necessary. Back to Iraq, where, Downer attested, they might be raped, tortured, etcetera, as a message to their husbands and others not to oppose the regime.
As Downer said: "So many cases of human rights abuse in Iraq are related directly to Saddam Hussein's determination to hang on to power..." There are a few cases, too, of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Howard Government to exactly the same end. Spare us the hypocrisy.