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"Difficult circumstances or not PM, torture is never acceptable"
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"Difficult circumstances or not PM, torture is never acceptable"

Francis VenturaThe use of torture is despicable, writes Francis Ventura, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Australia, who challenges the Australian Prime Minister to show leadership in ending mass human suffering.

She’s probably no more than about eighteen years of age. She’s lying peacefully on the ground.

No, it’s not a teenager sitting outside watching planes fly past or the sun going down.

It’s a girl with blood streaming down her face. Her clothes have been ripped off. She’s blindfolded.

She’s just been raped. Beaten. Murdered. A life full of potential, lost. Just another figure in what the United Nations estimates is between 80-100,000 people killed during Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war that ended in 2009.

YouTube is filled with chilling amateur footage of war crimes allegedly committed by both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict, the Rajapaksa-led government and the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The debate will forever rage on about the details of what happened during the fighting in Sri Lanka. What all of us can at least agree on is that the use of torture is despicable and pressure should be placed on any government or organisation practicing torture to cease immediately. One would think.

When recently questioned by journalists in Colombo about allegations of torture in Sri Lanka, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott initially said that his government deplores the use of torture. Fair enough. But he then went on to say, and I quote, “but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.” I had to listen to it again twice to ensure I’d heard it correctly. Had the Prime Minister seriously just implicitly defended the use of torture by the Sri Lankan government, which he sees as a strategic partner in his efforts to ‘stop the boats’?

Yes he had. I was stunned. Then I was infuriated, that this man claimed to be speaking on behalf of Australians, the vast majority of whom abhor torture. Indeed, many Australians are former victims of torture and civil war, which is why they fled their homeland. I’m proud to call some of them my close friends. Their stories would make you physically sick. Yet here was an Australian Prime Minister failing to address such a grave issue with the vigour it requires.

Perhaps this didn’t surprise me. Mr Abbott was a minister during the Conservative Howard regime that actively supported the illegal Bush-Cheney invasion into Iraq, which has cost an immeasurable number of lives and well over a trillion dollars.

Mr Abbott also appears to be at odds with the 1994 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Australia is signatory. It states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

This is a stark reminder of why human rights should never, ever be subordinate to the domestic political games of any country. At its most extreme, this has led to genocide, as demonstrated in Rwanda and Nazi Germany. Human rights protection must be central to all government policy. Ending mass human suffering and promoting a common humanity is the collective duty of every human being.

Here’s hoping that next time, Mr Abbott will show leadership on the subject, just as his Conservative counterpart David Cameron of the UK did during the recent CHOGM, where he used his influence to shine a light on the issue and call for an international investigation, a sentiment I wholeheartedly support.

And importantly Tony Abbott, please don’t ever, ever again in your capacity as an Australian political representative defend the use of torture, implicitly or directly. We are a much better country than that, and instances like the one I described above are never acceptable.

photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via photopin cc

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About me:

G’day! My name is Francis Ventura. I am currently an Assistant Editor of yourcommonwealth.org. and the Victorian representative on the Australian Youth Forum Steering Committee.  

As Melbourne is the sporting capital of the nation, I have a keen interest in cricket and Australian Rules football. I also love exploring Australia’s beautiful environment. After my studies I would like to dedicate my life to human rights, with a focus on protecting civilians living in war zones or under totalitarian regimes.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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