Former tennis champion turned Pentecostal minister, Margaret Court helped set up a consulate for a regime known for persecuting gays, torture, sexual violence and summary executions, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Court and husband Barry used their Perth-based Pentecostal church to establish the consulate for the east African republic of Burundi, whose government has been investigated for suspected “crimes against humanity”.
The consulate was opened in Perth in July last year by Burundi’s first lady, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza.
The president did not attend as he’s unable to leave the country without the risk of being arrested by the International Criminal Court.
At the event, Court prayed for “the bridging of these two nations”.
Meanwhile, Mr Court, the brother of Richard Court and son of Sir Charles Court, both former Liberal premiers of West Australia, was appointed honorary consul. He said the partnership had emerged after Burundi’s first lady visited Australia to promote her country and used the Victory Life church as a base.
“The president of Burundi asked me if I’d stand as a consulate for Burundi in Australia,” he says. “It took a while for the Australian government to recognise that, but eventually they did, and now we have a relationship on a diplomatic scale with Australia and Burundi.”
The decision to approve Burundi’s honorary consulate has been slammed by human rights advocates and refugees. According to a UN Commission report released last year, state authorities and members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, “have carried out killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, acts of torture and ill-treatment and rape against actual or alleged political opposition members”.
“Imagine an Australian Christian Minister being a Consul for Pol Pot,” said Brisbane doctor Wendell Rosevear, a friend of a Burundi refugee Christian Nduwimana whose father was killed by armed forces in 2017.
Christian’s brother Pacifique Ndayisaba was also arrested and tortured by Burundi authorities. Both brothers now live in Australia, and told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald they were shocked by the Court family’s support for the country.
“It is very concerning that a famous Australian lady would host and support a regime which kills people, discriminates against LGBTI people, and uses rape as a weapon,” said Mr Ndayisaba, a spokesman for the group Survivors and Victims of the Burundi Dictatorship.
A DFAT spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald that the consulate only has jurisdiction in Western Australia, and all costs are the responsibility of Burundi. “This is not a diplomatic appointment,” the spokesperson said.