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Howard accused of crimes over detention policies

Julian Burnside QC: Howard, Ruddock and Vanstone accused as guilty of crimes against humanity

Three times within one week prominent human rights activist, barrister and Queens Council Julian Burnside has accused Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, former immigration minister Phillip Ruddock and current immigration minister Amanda Vanstone of crimes against humanity over their mandatory detention policies.

First, at a Rotary breakfast at the Melbourne RACV Club on Monday February 19, Burnside - in the presence of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone - gave an as usual crisp outline of the Australian legislation created when Australia in 2002 acceded to the Rome statute by which the International Criminal Court was created; under this new Australian legislation Australia recognizes genocide and various war crimes.

After building his simple but cogent and clear argument using section 268.12 of the Australian Criminal Code, where as a result of this legislation, Australia's authors of the mandatory detention regime are by definition guilty of crimes under this statute, Burnside stated in his Melbourne speech:

"If moral arguments have no purchase, it remains the fact that our government is engaged in a continuing crime against humanity when assessed against its own legislative standards. I accuse Mr Howard and Mr Ruddock of that crime. I accuse Senator Vanstone of that crime."

And while Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone was present at the time, in her reply she did not respond to any of the aspects of Burnside's speech, seemingly completely ignoring the grave accusations.

Secondly, when Burnside addressed a packed Winthrop Hall audience at the UWA Perth International Arts Festival on Friday February 20 he received a thunderous applause when he repeated - in summary form - the arguments put in Melbourne.

On that occasion he concluded his address by asking what had become of Australia when "it locks up innocents [in detention centres] while the criminals are in government in Canberra". Many people in the audience were standing for the final and lengthy applause.

Finally, as the chair of The PEN Panel, part of Perth Writers Week (Words and Ideas) on Saturday 21 February - a part of the Perth Arts Festival - Burnside also referred to his Melbourne RACV speech.

This time he also told the audience - within the context of what the panel saw as a serious deficiency in reporting standards by the Australian media, that a prominent reporter of a major Melbourne daily newspaper was in the audience at his RACV speech. According to Burnside this journalist did not report any details of his direct and immediate accusations of Minister Vanstone, instead writing an article which erroneously reported the answer Vanstone had supplied this reporter with when he had asked a question about changes to the deportation policy of asylum seekers to Iran under Australia's MOU with that country.

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