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Amnesty welcomes NZ Tampa offer

Amnesty International NZ has welcomed the New Zealand Government's willingness to take an active role in assessing the refugee claims of the Tampa asylum-seekers, but continues to condemn the Australian Government for refusing to accept its international legal obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.

Legitimate concern about illegal migration and people-trafficking cannot be allowed to undermine safeguards developed to prevent innocent people from being unjustly imprisoned, tortured or killed, said Amnesty's NZ director, Ced Simpson.

"The same rhetoric being used now against boat people was used by leading figures vigorously opposed to admitting refugees fleeing wartime devastation in Europe in the 1940s. Thankfully the international community rejected that sentiment and adopted the Refugee Convention and asylum procedures," said.

"It is extremely disappointing to see Australia, a country that has participated in the development of such safeguards, now attacking them and consequently being condemned internationally."

"It would be nice to see a range of political leaders being more worried about promoting international efforts to tackle the jailers, torturers and killers who continue to drive so many people to leave their own countries, than being a 'soft touch' by taking in their victims," Mr Simpson said.

"If a range of governments, including Australia's, made more creative and sustained efforts to strengthen international human rights protections, rather than attempt to deny sanctuary to the relatively few who seek it, the world would be a much safer place for all of us."

The New Zealand Government has agreed to process the asylum claims of 150 of the people who were rescued from the sea at Australia's request by the Norwegian container vessel MV Tampa on Sunday 26 August.

The Australian Government, a signatory to the Refugee Convention that prohibits states from returning to danger those in genuine fear of persecution, refused to let the survivors land on Christmas Island to have their claims assessed.

Background note:

The NZ Government has agreed to accept 150 of the asylum-seekers to enable their applications for refugee status to be processed. They are to be housed at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

As preparations are being made for the asylum-seekers to be taken to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea by an Australian Navy ship an Australian Federal Court is hearing a case brought by the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties which seeks to prove that Australia is breaching its own domestic law by disallowing the asylum-seekers to disembark on Christmas Island, and make applications for refugee status.

It is well settled under international law that a provision of national law cannot justify a breach of international law which is binding on the state. Likewise, a state's national law on immigration and immigration control must not be implemented in a way which breaches its obligations under international customary law or treaties which it is party to.

Amnesty International believes that Australia has been in clear breach of international law.

Amnesty International's concern for asylum-seekers and refugees arises from its work against the detention of prisoners of conscience, torture, "disappearance" and the death penalty. It opposes any person being returned to a country where they risk any of these human rights violations or to a third country where they would not be afforded effective and durable protection against such return.

The right to seek asylum from such human rights violations is proclaimed in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To prevent the returning of people having a "well-founded fear of persecution" in the country from which they've fled (refoulement), Amnesty International works to promote adherence to international refugee law, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), to which Australia, Norway and New Zealand are parties.

Article 35 of the Refugee Convention requires states parties, such as Australia, to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Australia also has legal obligations to prevent the return of refugees to danger under Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture).

Amnesty International's intervention in the Tampa issue is based on principles of international human rights law, since the organization does not have any information pertaining to the individual situation of any of the passengers on board the Tampa.

The pattern of human rights violations in Afghanistan is well known. It is reported that 80% of Afghan asylum seekers whose claims have been heard in Australia have been granted refugee status.

For further information contact:

Ced Simpson BH 0-4-499 3348 AH 0-4-938 0716 / 0-4-938 0717 mobile 021 371 205

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