The Asian Human Rights Commission takes the opportunity of Australia Day 2002 to congratulate Dr Aamer Sultan on his recent special commendation by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. In recognising Dr Sultan for his work among asylum seekers at Sydney¡¦s Villawood Detention Centre, where he is also a detainee, the Commission has challenged a dangerous course in Australia that would have asylum seekers categorised as anonymous non-persons. This regrettable trend is an extension of centuries¡¦ old mentalities and policies of discrimination directed first against Aboriginal people and later against non-European migrants that we in Asia hoped had passed.
The award to Dr Sultan is a testament to every asylum seeker everywhere struggling to have their humanity recognised. It challenges those of us who have the luxury of living free from persecution to overcome our ignorant prejudices. It challenges us to stop making assumptions about the reasons that people flee. It challenges us to admit that each person who seeks asylum in another country is a thinking and feeling individual.
In honouring Dr Sultan the Commission has upheld the universality of human rights. They are not principles that apply only to Australians, nor only to people who travel on aircraft, nor only those with passports. They are absolute, and by denying the humanity of others we succeed merely in diminishing ourselves. This Australia Day 2002 may all Australians take up these principles and strive to demolish intolerance: build in its stead a society based on inclusiveness and decency, both for the benefit of Australian society and for us all.