Pacific’s ‘Guantanamo’ loomed over Nauru summit

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The presence of the asylum seekers detention centre loomed large at the four-day Pacific Forum meeting in Nauru last week.

There have been calls from human rights groups such as Amnesty International to close a facility it calls “a stain on the region.”

Prior to the meeting, Amnesty released an open letter co-signed by 80 other groups: “Pacific island leaders cannot ignore this issue any longer and need to ensure that it is at the very top of the forum’s agenda.”

Critics have compared the situation to what has been taking place on the US Mexico border.

Some have even equated the detention centre in Nauru with the US-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

“If I liken the immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island to the US facility on Guantanamo Bay, even passionate advocates for those seeking asylum such as human rights lawyer Julian Burnside dismiss my concerns: ‘Oh we’re not as bad as that,'” said David Isaacs writing in the Sydney Morning Herald earlier in the year.

“But I would argue that we are indeed as bad as that, possibly worse.”

He argued that there were four things that made Guantanamo Bay so bad:

  • Lack of due process for imprisoning people there
  • Lack of accountability (limited information, no transparency)
  • Indefinite imprisonment without due process (seemingly arbitrary legal processing, lack of clear end-point to imprisonment)
  • Severe physical and mental maltreatment

Isaacs thought Nauru and Manus share the first three characteristics with Guantanamo. But detainees are not systematically tortured physically using techniques like water-boarding.

However, he argued that two other things which possibly made Nauru worse were:

  • The detention of children
  • Those imprisoned on Manus and Nauru are not terrorists. Most are not guilty of any criminal offence since seeking asylum is not a crime.

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News category: Asia Pacific, Top Story.