Monday, December 22, 2014

Remember 'More Jakarta, Less Geneva'?

"The last thing we want to do is hide anything from the Australian people." Tony Abbott, 9/8/13

On 21 May 2014, Military Court Watch* (which monitors the treatment of children in Israeli military courts) wrote the following letter to Australia's diplomatic representative in Ramallah, Tom Wilson:

We are writing to you to confirm the Australian Government's position regarding the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention (the Convention) to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Although there is near universal acceptance and authoritative statements that the Convention applies in full, we seek clarification following recent media reports which have created some uncertainty regarding Australia's position, most notably:

1. In an interview with Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, published in the Times of Israel (Australia FM: Don't call settlements illegal under international law, 15 January 2014), the Minister is quoted as saying 'I would like to see which international law has declared them [settlements] illegal.'

2. Haaretz recently reported that Australia's Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, met with the Israeli housing minister in East Jerusalem on 14 May 2014 (PA complains to Australia after envoy meets Israeli official in East Jerusalem, 15 May 2014). The report quotes a letter of protest issued by the Palestinian Authority which states that: 'Australia is under a clear obligation to respect and ensure respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and that a State which knowingly assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act bears responsibility for the violation.'

We seek clarification as to the Australian Government's position regarding the application of the Convention to the OPT as its applicability is directly related to the work of Military Court Watch in the following respects:

1. The jurisdictional basis relied upon by the Israeli military authorities for the establishment of the military courts in the West Bank is Article 66 of the Convention. If the Australian Government's position is that the Convention no longer applies, could you please clarify whether or not you now consider these courts to be operating without legal foundation?

2. According to data released by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) in April 2014, 51% of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military were held inside Israel. The transfer and detention of protected persons out of occupied territory is prohibited under Article 76 of the Convention. In this regard we refer you to a letter from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (20 July 2012) which clearly states the UK's position on this issue as follows: 'The Government agrees that Israel has legal obligations as an Occupying Power with respect to Occupied Palestinian Territories under applicable international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. [...] We agree with you that Israel's policy of detaining Palestinians within Israel is contrary to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and that domestic law cannot be used as a justification for violations of international law' (Copy attached).

If the Australian Government's position is that the Convention no longer applies in full, could you please clarify whether or not Australia now considers it legal to transfer and detain protected persons, including children, out of occupied territory?

As we are sure you appreciate the recent statements and actions by senior Australian officials raise serious questions as to the Government's commitment to the Geneva Conventions which in turn, has far reaching legal consequences beyond the region. Your urgent clarification on these issues would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,
Raja Shehadeh, Lawyer,
Gerard Horton, Lawyer

Here's the Abbott government's gobsmacking response (not BTW to MCW, but in response to a question on notice in the Senate asking whether it is "the Government's view that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem":

"The issue raised by this question has been the subject of legal advice provided by the Department to the Government. That advice is subject to legal professional privilege and is therefore confidential."

Who could possibly have imagined back then, in those far-off, halcyon days before Australia became the brute and bloody reality we know today as Abbottoir, that when Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg (now Assistant Treasurer!) declared, just before the September 7 2013 election, that the foreign policy "catchcry" of an Abbott government would be "More Jakarta, less Geneva,"** what he really meant was less Geneva Conventions?

[*; **See my 1/9/13 post Heaps More Tel Aviv... An Occasional Jakarta.]

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