Appalling conditions. Abusive behaviour. That’s what awaits migrants and asylum seekers when they arrive in powerful countries like Greece and Australia. This mistreatment is criminal. But It looks normal, when in reality these are crimes against humanity. If the violence continues, attacks on a civilian population may start to look unrecognisable. Criminality will look unrecognisable.
Dr Kalpouzos has been exploring this mistreatment from human rights and criminal law perspectives and presenting his research to the International Criminal Court. He wants the Court to realise the way migrants are treated in influential countries is a devastating misuse of power. He wants the Court to intervene in such cases and prevent violence towards migrants from appearing normal. Although a shift in policy towards migrants and asylum seekers is yet to occur, the research is getting attention in high places, including the United Nations.
What did we explore and how?
Working with Dr Itamar Man of the University of Haifa in Israel, Dr Kalpouzos began by looking at what happens to migrants and asylum seekers in Greece. The researchers interviewed prisoners and observed the conditions they were kept in. They saw how guards were treating migrants and the laws they were enforcing. What Dr Kalpouzos and Dr Mann saw was a message being delivered to prospective arrivals. A message that says: ‘don’t come here’.
Their research features in a 2015 edition of the Melbourne Journal of International Law, and the German Law Journal has asked Dr Kalpouzos and Dr Mann to share their research in a future edition. The research also inspired academics at Stanford Law School in America to use a similar approach to investigate Australian authorities’ treatment of captured migrants and asylum seekers at Manus Island and Nauru. They also interviewed people kept in captivity, looked at how guards treated those they captured and saw the conditions migrants and asylum seekers were being kept in.
Dr Kalpouzos would later join this research programme on behalf of the pro-human rights organisation he co-founded, the Global Legal Action Network. Together he and the team at Stanford wrote a letter to the International Criminal Court, expressing their concern that what’s happening are crimes against humanity. The letter asks the Court to intervene in the Australia case. The Global Legal Action Network and the Stanford team shared this letter with the Court in February 2017.
Benefits and influence of this research
Western countries haven’t changed their policies or how they treat captured migrants and asylum seekers yet. But Dr Kalpouzos’s research is getting some high-profile attention. In the Summer of 2017, The UN invited him to meet with Agnes Callamard, their special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in New York. Callamard was writing a report on the deaths of migrants and asylum seekers and wanted Dr Kalpouzos’s advice. Quoting the research by Dr Kalpouzos and Mann, she recommended the International Criminal Court investigates the matter.
A follow-up UN report on torture calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate how migrants are treated by Western states and guards, “as a direct or indirect consequence of deliberate State policies and practices of deterrence, criminalisation, arrival prevention, and refoulement”. There are plans for the Global Legal Action Network to pursue this further.
In February 2019, Australian lawyers showed interest in using Dr Kalpouzos’s research to build a case against Australian guards on Manus Island and Nauru over how they treat prisoners.
Laws on the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers are yet to change. But there’s clearly a desire to stop the normalisation of crimes against humanity.