Spanish firm accused of crimes against humanity over detention centres

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Nauru detention facilities

A SPANISH company has been warned that it could face charges of crimes against humanity. Ferrovial, an infrastructure corporation with significant shares in Heathrow, Southampton and Glasgow airports, also manages Australia’s offshore detention facilities for immigrants.

Those camps have long been criticised by international human rights groups and lawyers for their barbaric conditions, described by a traumatologist as the “worst atrocity he had ever seen”, and by the camp’s former chief psychologist as effectively torture.

In a bid to escape its responsibilities under international law, Australia has set up detention camps for immigrants and refugees offshore on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, a move reminiscent of the United States’ establishment of a torture centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In May Ferrovial, owned by Rafael del Pino Calvo-Sotelo whose father founded the Madrid-based firm, bought out Broadspectrum who previously managed the camps, and now finds itself targeted over a “culture of abuse”, as described by an Australian Senate report.

“Based on our examination of the facts, it is possible that individual officers at Ferrovial might be exposed to criminal liability for crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute,” said Diala Shamas, a clinical supervising attorney at the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School.

“We have raised our concerns with Ferrovial in a private communication to their officers and directors detailing our findings. We have yet to hear back.”

On Monday a human rights advocacy group named No Business In Abuse (NBIA) released a report calling on Ferrovial to cease operations at the camps and reject their “current association with gross human rights abuses”.

Ferrovial has since responded to the report stating: “Respectfully, but strongly, we reject the factual and juridic allegations contained in it.”

The multinational, which began life as a railway construction company, has also argued that many of the detailed abuses at the camps occurred before their involvement, and that they do not “run” the camps but rather act as a significant services provider.

The group will not, however, be renewing its contract with the Australian government when it expires in 2017, but NBIA believe that Ferrovial have gone too far and have called upon investors, financiers, and prospective business partners to cut ties with them.

“There is no shadow of a doubt that gross human rights violations are occurring, no shadow of a doubt that Ferrovial is complicit,” NBIA executive director Shen Narayanasamy said.

The United Nations has declared that Australia’s detention regime is unlawful and is essentially arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment, as asylum seekers arriving on boat without visas are informed they will not be allowed near Australia and sent to Nauru or Manus Island from where their only hope is to swim.

There are more than 1,300 men, women and children being held on the two islands and multiple reports of rape, abuse and murder against them perpetrated by sadistic guards. 

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