15 November 2009

Holes In Australia And Timor-leste’s Fishing Nets

Pat Walsh, 11 November 2009 - In recent times, two individuals allegedly responsible for violations of human rights in Timor-Leste have freely and legally entered Australia and Timor-Leste respectively. Both were issued visas. The two individuals in question were Guy Campos, an East Timorese who entered Australia from Indonesia at the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2008, and Maternus Bere, an Indonesian from West Timor who entered Timor-Leste on 9 August 2009. Though neither has been convicted of human rights violations, both men are credibly accused of such violations in Timor-Leste and both were involved in militia activity at different times. In addition, Guy Campos was found guilty of maltreatment resulting in the death of a Timorese minor in 1979.

Like any other visitor to Australia, Guy Campos was required to complete a visa application which contains no fewer than eleven questions relating to character background. The questions include: ‘Have you been convicted of a crime or offence in any country (including any conviction which is now removed from official records)?’ ‘Have you left any country to avoid being removed or deported?’ ‘Have you committed, or been involved in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity or human rights?’ ‘Have you served in a military force or state sponsored/private militia?

To get through this tightly woven net, one assumes that Guy Campos either ticked no to each box or ticked yes to some but was given a visa because his name was not on an independent, up-to-date alert list against which his claims could be checked. As a result, a person with a criminal record and a suspect human rights background entered Australia. His presence caused considerable stress to the families of his victim and the expenditure of taxpayer money on futile investigations (he has freely returned to Indonesia). The case has left the impression that Australia is harder on carriers of swine flu and asylum seekers than the likes of Guy Campos.

Though most Australians are unaware of it, Australia is a world leader in this aspect of border control. Few other countries have followed Australia’s lead and question intending visitors on their human rights background. The Guy Campos case, however, prompts questions about the management of the system. How well publicised is the existence of the system? Do applicants from countries with bad human rights records know about it? How is the data-base, a sort of reverse blacklist of the type used in Indonesia during the Soeharto years, managed and maintained? How many people have been denied entry because of their human rights background? Who were they and from which countries? Does the alert list contain the names of those indicted by the Timor-Leste Serious Crimes process or those listed in Chega!, the report of the CAVR?

Entry to Timor-Leste is much easier than Australia. Timor-Leste’s net is woven loosely and its arrival card requires visitors to address only two of the 11 questions asked by Australian immigration. Like any other visitor to Timor-Leste, Maternus Bere filled in a form which required him to answer yes or no to the following two questions: ‘Have you been convicted of a criminal offence in any country?’ and ‘Have you ever been deported, extradited, excluded from, expelled from, or required to leave any country for any reason?’

It is not known how Maternus Bere completed his application. It is fair to assume, however, that he either ticked no to the questions above or the duty officer ignored, for whatever reason, any yes ticks. Either way, the system failed and Timor-Leste was left with a huge rumpus it needs like a hole in the head.

To its credit, Timor-Leste has acknowledged that Martenus Bere’s visa was issued in error. The question now is what can be done to avoid a repetition of this error. What is required, one might suggest, is a more tightly woven net that comprises (a) a more comprehensive set of questions like those asked of visitors to Australia and (b) a data base – using Chega! and Serious Crimes information – against which border control can check entrants and their claims.

More effective screening and publicity in both Australia and Timor-Leste will also communicate a key message that both societies have zero tolerance of human rights violations. As the CAVR report Chega! urges in its recommendations, more effective ways of discouraging human rights violations are needed. Denying perpetrators easy access to human rights friendly countries is one way of reminding those who continue to enjoy impunity that that’s not the end of the story. It will also discourage military and other potential offenders by reminding them that there will be a price to pay for their inhumanity, even if they manage to avoid formal justice.
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