Wednesday 22 Aug 2018 | 00:31 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 22 Aug 2018 | 00:31 | SYDNEY

Suspected war criminals in Australia


Fergus Hanson


28 March 2011 13:53

He may have been around 150 days late, but the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, finally got around to answering some tricky questions on war crimes from the Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam.

Reading the questions and response, it's easy to see why it took so long. Among other things the answers revealed:

  • Since July 1999, at least 38 people had their protection visa applications refused on the basis of Article 1F(a) of the Refugees Convention, which excludes people where there are serious reasons for considering that the applicant has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity. As the Minister notes in his reply, this is likely an underestimate as the 38 cases represent only those who appealed the decision and 'who have been convicted of such crimes or have admitted to such crimes, or whose particular circumstances gave the decision maker serious reasons for considering that the applicant committed such crimes'. 
  • Of the 38 cases, 22 were upheld, but only 17 of the individuals have left Australia. Of the five remaining, one 'had their immigration status resolved through the grant of a substantive visa issued in 2007 following intervention by the then Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews'. The other four have been living here for between five and eight years, for reasons including 'the time taken by the individuals in pursuing review and Ministerial intervention'. One of the four, upon review was excluded because they allegedly 'committed a serious non-political crime' (Article 1F(b), not war crimes). 
  • We know from a previous question from Mr Ludlam, that staffing levels in the War Crimes Screening Unit were halved between February 2008 and December 2009, to five staff. The number of cases referred to the unit also more than halved, but were still a substantial 369 in 2009-10, or around 1.5 cases to screen per working day. By contrast, the Canada Border Services Agency has around 55 staff working on war crimes cases and the Netherlands Immigration and Naturalisation Service has 25. 
  • The Minister also noted, Australia had received extradition requests for three individuals accused of war crimes offences (one of whom has subsequently died). He also noted 'Australia has not ever extradited a person to face prosecution in a foreign country for alleged war crimes offences'.

A good follow up question for Mr Ludlam might be: of those 17 individuals whose visas were refused on the basis of their suspected involvement in war crimes and who subsequently left Australia, in how many instances did the Australian government notify the government of the country they returned to of this suspicion' 

The responses raise a few more questions. Clearly suspected war criminals are arriving in Australia, but how plausible is it that five people can adequately screen for suspected war criminals given the volume of cases they are reviewing — even if they are somehow, fantastically more efficient than the Canadians and the Dutch' Should we be trying some of these alleged war criminals here, particularly those we can't deport' And finally, is it time to review the long standing no-policy approach to this issue and close the many loopholes in our war crimes legislation' 

Photo by Flickr user jonathan mcintosh.

Follow Fergus on Twitter @FergusHanson.