28 September 2023

The Australian Centre for International Justice has launched the landmark policy paper, ‘Challenging Impunity: Why Australia Needs a Permanent, Specialised International’ Crimes Unit’.

The paper explores the rise in domestic accountability processes for atrocity crimes – war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and torture –  in other countries around the world, comparing this to Australia’s chequered and inconsistent history of international crimes investigations. Drawing on research and experience from overseas jurisdictions, the paper advocates for the creation of a permanent, specialised international crimes unit in Australia, and outlines recommendations for the establishment of an effective unit.

Australia’s approach to date has been to leave the responsibility for international crimes investigations to generalist teams within the Australian Federal Police or to set up ad hoc units with a limited mandate – such as the Office of the Special Investigator to investigate allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan. Such an approach leads to a waste of time and resources, an inability to develop and retain multidisciplinary expertise, a lack of institutional networks and cooperation and ultimately, the risk that Australia becomes a safe haven for perpetrators of atrocity crimes.

The paper contains research about the Australian Federal Police’s failure to undertake effective investigations and the mishandling of international crimes matters, such as the case of retired Sri Lankan General Jagath Jayasuriya who visited Australia multiple times despite being accused of war crimes and torture.

Melissa Chen, Author of the Policy Paper and Senior Lawyer, Australian Centre for International Justice says:

“Australia has the legal framework to address international crimes but its current institutional capacity is weak. The mishandling of international crimes investigations by generalist units within the Australian Federal Police has been disappointing.”

“Permanent, specialised units overseas have had success in holding perpetrators to account. If the Australian government takes it international obligations seriously, it would follow in the footsteps of these overseas jurisdictions by establishing such a unit here. The establishment of a permanent, specialised international crimes unit would finally open up a pathway for survivor communities in Australia to seek redress for atrocity crimes, and for Australia to effectively coordinate with national and international authorities in an effort to close the impunity gap for international crimes.”

Rawan Arraf, Executive Director, Australian Centre for International Justice says:

“For many years, civil society organisations, academics, the media and international crimes experts have called upon the Australian government to take meaningful action with respect to atrocity crimes investigations. It’s time for the Australian government to demonstrate the political will to contribute to ending impunity and catch up with the international community by establishing a permanent, specialised international crimes unit.”

Geoffrey Robertson KC, Barrister and Founding Head of Chambers, Doughty Street Chambers says:

“This is a well-argued and important call for Australia to step up to the task that decent and democratic nations must shoulder, to deny a hiding place to perpetrators of crimes against humanity. This report explains the mechanism necessary to flush them out and bring them to justice.”


Media Contact

For media enquiries contact: Rawan Arraf on +61(0)450 708 870.

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