Gillian Triggs recommended a wife-killer be set free. But hold your outrage, she deserves our support.

Longtime human rights defender Gillian Triggs is being heavily criticised this week for recommending that a wife-killer be set free. But hold your outrage because we’re taking this opportunity to defend her decision.

Gillian Triggs is president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, longtime feminist, and super-articulate wonderwoman.

And this week, she’s come under fire for making a decision at work involving a man who fatally beat his pregnant wife.

Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, is under fire this week.

The man, John Basikbasik, beat his wife while drunk 15 years ago, and was sentenced by Queensland’s chief justice to seven years for manslaughter. Basikbasik, a West Papuan refugee, then spent another seven years in immigation detention once his visa was cancelled due to the horrific crime.

Then, because he’d been in custody for twice the maximum jail time he had been sentenced to, Basikbasik complained to the Human Rights Commission, which Gillian Triggs heads up.

And here’s where Triggs’ decision came in (brace yourself, because you may not like the outcome.)

Triggs found that the man should be released from detention – and compensated $350,000 for the extra time he served.

Triggs found that the man should be released from detention.

Her ruling was, that to keep him in detention past that what was necessary after the completion of his sentence was a breach of human rights and she found that the Government had arbitrarily kept him inside – and intended to keep doing so – because it hadn’t really considered alternatives to custody.

She also suggested that, given compensation is available under the relevant legislation, Basikbasik should be given more than $350,000 for the extra time he was locked up.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a human shield, standing in front of my daughter.


Cue: A whole lot of outrage by a whole lot of people, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott (who told the media this decision represented “extremely questionable judgment”) and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

“We believe, in short, that there’s a special place in hell for men who kill their partners and children. But that doesn’t mean Basikbasik should be locked up for life.”

Now, Mamamia has never — and will never — condone violence against women.

We believe, in short, that there’s a special place in hell for men who kill their partners and children — and by all accounts, Basikbasik was a nasty, vile piece of work. But today, we’re defending Gillian Triggs against the Government’s attacks, and we’re defending her right to recommend that nasty, vile piece of work be freed from detention.

And here’s why:

Because the nature of human rights is that they apply to everybody – not just those people we agree with or the people whose actions and behaviour we like.

The essence of human rights is that they’re universal, indivisible and interconnected.

They apply to people convicted of crimes and to those with no criminal record, to people with mental disabilities, and to people with nasty temperments, and to people whose opinions or character we dislike.

And under human rights law, there are some very clear rules which say, amongst other things, that everyone has the right to liberty, and to due process in court, and to freedom from arbitrary detention.

Justice — and respect for human rights —  does not mean a dangerous person like Basikbasik is jailed forever; instead, as Tom Dick wrote for Fairfax today: “It means he is given due process, and not detained without proper reason. It means his complaint is heard and those who determine it are respected.”


Malala’s speech will once again knock your socks off.

It is not appropriate for the Government to attack Triggs – a member of the judiciary – for interpreting the law as it stands. That is her job.

When political leaders like Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison publically attack holders of public office like Triggs, that undermines their independence and impartiality, as a group of human rights academics wrote today in an open letter.

“Human rights apply to people convicted of crimes and to those with no criminal record, to people with mental disabilities, and to people with nasty temperments, and to people whose opinions or character we dislike.”

So, here are some approaches that would be more useful than simply shouting down Gillian Triggs because she said a violent man should not be detained indefinitely after serving his sentence.

A typical classroom punishment is now being called “human rights abuse”…

We should campaign for longer sentences for violent men who hurt their partners.

We should honour the memory of Basikbasik’s late wife and we should support her grieving loved ones.

We should do everything we can to ensure Basikbasik himself, once free, never again harms another human being.

We should keep stop researching, and protesting, and law-making, and writing, and sharing stories, until violence against women is stamped out once and for all.

But launching a verbal attack on Gillian Triggs is not the answer, and neither is doing away with human rights.

Do you think Gillian Triggs is victim of a political ploy to shift attention away from the refugee issue?