Dewage v Australia (CAT, 2013)

Potential violations: CAT art 3

Remedy's assessment: Unremedied

The UN says:

[Australia is obliged] to refrain from forcibly returning [Mr Dewage] to Sri Lanka or to any other country where he runs a real risk of being expelled or returned to Sri Lanka.

CAT (2013)

Mr Dewage, a Sinhalese public servant from Sri Lanka, was an active unionist and member of an opposition party. His success in recruiting people placed him at odds with rival parties, one of which has a ‘militant wing’ accused of murdering political opponents. In 2000, when groups of men started coming to his house at night looking for him, he moved to another town, but was not deterred from political organising. He suffered harassment at work and, in 2004, when informed that he was to be transferred to a Tamil-dominated town at the height of the civil war, he quit his job. Unable to find another job, he tried to support himself by growing vegetables, and continued his political activities.

In July 2005, he was on his way to market when a government official, who had previously been gaoled for killing members of Mr Dewage’s party, drove up and told Mr Dewage to get in his van. This man questioned Mr Dewage about his political activities and threatened him with a gun.

Mr Dewage was also detained by members of the same and another rival political party and beaten with wire or cable. This and “other forms of humiliation [were] aimed at forcing him to worship the President” of Sri Lanka. Medical evidence confirms Mr Dewage bears scars consistent with his account.

Mr Dewage and his wife feared for their lives. He sought to buy an exit visa from an LTTE member, who assisted his passage to Australia, arriving in September 2005. Some months later, his home in Sri Lanka was broken into and a note left threatening to kill his family. His wife left, and has not been heard of since.

In February 2009, ‘thugs’ broke into Mr Dewage’s mother’s house in Sri Lanka searching for him, and she was injured. The house was later burned down. That same month, the Attorney-General’s Department asked the Minister for Immigration to intervene in Mr Dewage’s case on account of his severe mental illness, said to be exacerbated by his detention and threat of deportation. The Minister refused and, on 5 March 2009, Mr Dewage was informed that he would be deported ten days later. The deportation was suspended when Mr Dewage initiated proceedings before the High Court.

On 1 June 2009, Mr Dewage complained to CAT that, if forcibly returned to Sri Lanka, he feared he would be tortured by government authorities and ‘killed or harmed’ by the LTTE for having divulged to Australian authorities how he got to Australia.

In October 2009, Mr Dewage was released into community detention.

In November 2013, the Committee Against Torture found that Mr Dewage faces a ‘foreseeable, real and personal risk of being subjected to torture by Government officials if returned to Sri Lanka.’ Australia is therefore obliged to ‘refrain from forcibly returning [him] to Sri Lanka or to any other country where he runs a real risk of being expelled or returned to Sri Lanka.’

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