Never Downplay TORTURE


“They tell me ‘fuck off, this is our country, we will kill you, go back to your country’. And I say to them ‘you brought me here! You know I can’t go back to my country. You tell me I am a refugee.’ Then the three of them beat me. They hit my head, they kick me. They are supposed to be my security. They are supposed to be protecting me. Instead they are beating me.” (Mohsen, Manus Island)

Dear Readers,

By the time you finish reading this blog post, I would have hoped to have answered all your curiosities and also have provided the cold, hard facts about Australia’s undeniable role concerning torture in Nauru and Manus Island.

Manus island photo
(AAP Image/Eoin Blackwell)

I know torture is bad, but what is it exactly?

The definition of Torture by the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT):

‘Torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

So after you have given yourself the chance to digest this wordy definition, how would you feel if I were to say that Australia and torture are definitely not worlds apart?

Australia having a relation to torture is news to me. Doesn’t it only exist in less civilized parts of the world?

It wouldn’t be abnormal to think that Australia wouldn’t have much to do with that horrible little ‘T’ word, because of all its legislations that forbid such cruel acts against humanity.

So let’s not waste any more time and dive straight in, shall we?

According to International law and Australian legislation, torture is prohibited. Also, Australia is a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR)

According to the ICCPR, ”No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ and a state party must take “legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent and provide remedy to survivors of torture in any ‘country under its jurisdiction.”

Ooh, isn’t it lovely that Australia has such great values?

How about this 2013 Amnesty International Report I found?!

Amnesty (2013) explains that even though torture has been widespread and normalised in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Sri Lanka and West Papua, Australia has always carried the reputation of being a country that does not condone nor practise torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading acts. 

Everything seems all rainbows and unicorns to me, so what’s your issue with Australia and torture?

My issue is the fact that we still do not fully understand the unfortunate connection that the words ‘Australia’, ‘Manus Island’, ‘Nauru’ and ‘Torture’ have.

Ok then, so what are we already “supposed” to know about Manus Island and Nauru?

Well, the truth is, you’re not actually supposed to know anything.

This is what the government DOES NOT want us to be seeing on our television screens:

Due to the Australian Border Protection Act, there are very heavy restrictions placed on journalism in Nauru and Manus Island. Much like Guantanamo Bay, the two detention centres are “black sites” because the Australian public is not well informed. Until quite recently, there has been a cloud of secrecy surrounding the happenings of the two detention centres.

And where are these island anyway? I hear they are far away, so it sure ain’t Australia’s problem.

It really isn’t surprising that many Australians don’t know much about the islands considering the Australian government enjoy bullying any media that tries to get to them. They have raised the price of a journalist visa from $200 to $8,000. A visa is mandatory for any media access to the camps, so what does this tell you, hm?

The location of the two processing centres are far from Australia’s shores and are situated in other developing countries. How would you like to be forced from one third world country to another? If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, reports have claimed that the government has gone to new censorship lengths by removing Manus Island and Nauru from Google Maps Australia.

(Note: Look at how I managed to outwit Google!)

Nauru and Manus island location
(Source: Google Maps)

Ok, fine. They have been placed in another tough environment, but surely it isn’t THAT bad.

The accounts of mistreatment have been released and reports from Amnesty International should answer your question.

What makes my alarm bells go off is even though there are such harsh restrictions placed on journalism, Australian media always seem to be reporting on it. This should make everyone question the quality of the reports we consume.

Guardian article on Manus island
(Source: The Guardian/Ben Doherty)

So are you saying that the reports are somewhat downplayed?

Simply put, yes.

It is quite obvious that the Australian media have been following the footsteps of the US media by showing how hesitant they are to use the word ‘torture’ in its reporting. Bennett, Lawrence and Livingston (2006) brought to light the fact that western countries have the tendency to rename ‘torture’ and prefer to use words such as ‘abuse’ ‘mistreatment’ and ‘enhanced interrogation’.

So now that we have established that the Australian government is shady (how shocking!) and censorship on the media is tough, does something now smell a little fishy to you?

But why doesn’t the Australian government want us to know? What is really going on over there?

Well if you have already seen SBS’s dateline report about the state of Manus Island and Nauru, then you should be well aware that the conditions are worse than deplorable.

They have been described as hellish, unbearable and torturous. An Iranian refugee who has been held at Manus Island detention centre for 28 months says that he has experienced ‘profound and annihilating mental torture’. He writes that not knowing is the worst torture he and fellow detainees are experiencing. “Inflicting torture by the use of time is the best and complete explanation of this situation.”

Asylum seekers are having to resort to their smartphones in order to communicate what is happening behind the barbed-wire fence. Even still, the government puts more restrictive policies in place so that communication with the outside world is incredibly difficult (Coddington, 2014)

Sure, the conditions may not be ideal, but torture is a pretty harsh word to use. 

You can decide for yourself if these occurrences are or are not torture:

-Being deprived of basic medical assistance resulting in death
Being punched after asking for more washing powder
A 5-year-old asylum seeker boy being raped by a fellow detainee and being forced to stay with his rapist in Nauru

Have you decided yet?

The Australian immigration officials that are over there to supposedly protect the detainee’s are condoning the torture of these innocent individuals.

You can call this ‘brutal’ or ‘harsh’, but it will not change the fact that these are acts of torture.

Why should I care?

Because we are all entitled to our human rights. The detainees in these centres have fallen victim to our negligence.

Amnesty’s violation of human rights evaluation goes as such:
1. Refoulement (forcing a refugee to go back to their country where they face persecution)
2. Arbitrary detention
3. Discrimination
4. No legal protection
5. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment

Did you know that torture is a major global issue?

-Torture has been used by 150 countries in the past, and that it is still being practised. (Crelinsten, 2003, p. 295)

-Australia isn’t the only western country that is shielding its use of torture. The United States are using ‘enhanced interrogation methods’ in Guantanamo bay and another noteworthy point is the fact that the US’s top 10 aid recipients currently practice torture.

How would you like to be treated like you shouldn’t exist anymore?

“In here is nothing to make you feel happy, or give you some hope at least”

We need to act in the next election and fight for the rights of asylum seekers fleeing persecution.





References (not including hyperlinks)

Amnesty International. (2013). Annual Report 2013: The State of the World’s Human Rights. London, England: Amnesty International Publications.

Bennett, W. L., Lawrence, Regina G., & Livingston, S. (2006). None dare to call it torture: Indexing and the limits of press independence in the abu ghraib scandal. [Article]. Journal of Communication, 56(3), 467-485. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00296.x

Coddington, K, & Mountz, A 2014, ‘Countering isolation with the use of technology: how asylum-seeking detainees on islands in the Indian Ocean use social media to transcend their confinement’, Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 97-112. Available from: 10.1080/19480881.2014.896104. [17 May 2016].

Crelinsten, R. D. (2003). The world of torture: A constructed reality. Theoretical Criminology, 7(3), 293-318. doi: 10.1177/13624806030073003



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