HRLC statements to the 29th session of the Human Rights Council

The HRLC has delivered two oral statements to the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.


Australia's relationship with the United Nations

Delivered 26 June 2015 

Thank you Mr. President.

We wish to draw the Council’s attention to a declining trend in Australia’s cooperation with United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms.

In the last year, particularly regarding refugee matters, public statements made by Australian government ministers have shown disregard for recommendations made by UN human rights experts.

In March 2015 the Special Rapporteur on Torture found that parts of Australia’s immigration detention regime violated the Convention against Torture. In response, Australia’s Prime Minister publicly stated that Australia is sick of being “lectured” by the UN. This followed earlier comments by Australia’s Immigration Minister that migration decisions would be: “made in Australia under our laws, not out of the directives of Geneva or elsewhere".

Between November 2014 and February 2015, Australian government ministers have also verbally attacked the integrity, impartiality and judgment of the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs. The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders expressed concern that these attacks may constitute retaliation for the Commission’s report documenting the violation of the rights of children in Australia’s immigration detention centres.

Despite a request in February 2015 from the Special Rapporteur to halt the attacks, in June 2015 government ministers publicly repeated the allegations.

It is disappointing that whilst Australia leads an important resolution to strengthen national human rights institutions in this Council, Australia’s treatment of the President of its own national human rights institution falls well below the standards Australia purports to champion.

We call on the Council and member States to remind Australia that as a candidate for membership of the Council for the term 2018-2020 it should demonstrate its ability to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, and its willingness to fully cooperate with the Council and its mandates.

Thank you.


Australia's Asylum Seeker Policies

Delivered Thursday 25 June 2015

Thank you Mr. President.

We wish to update the Council on the increasingly dangerous and unlawful measures Australia is using to intercept and return people seeking its protection.

Reports from Indonesia suggest that Australia recently paid USD$30,000 to people smugglers to return asylum seekers on board their vessel to Indonesia. The payments were allegedly made after the boat was intercepted by Australian authorities in international waters. Australia has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny the allegations.

The alleged payment of smugglers is the latest in an alarming trend of ever more radical measures used by Australia to avoid its international obligations.

Since December 2013, Australia has intercepted 17 boats carrying 540 asylum seekers. Despite successive Australian Governments assessing over 90 percent of people arriving by boat as being refugees in need of protection, all bar one of the 540 intercepted at sea have been returned.

The method of return has differed. Some have been towed back by Australia into the territorial waters of other states. Others, including children and heavily pregnant women, have been offloaded onto single-use lifeboats with only instructions and enough provisions to sail back to the country from which they left. Some have been delivered directly into the hands of the regimes from which they fled.   

In all cases, people have been returned with no transparency, no due process and no fair or robust assessment of their asylum claims, creating inherent risks of refoulement.

In addition to intercepting and returning those seeking to come, Australia continues to mistreat those who arrive. 1,577 people, including 81 children, continue to be subjected to mandatory and indefinite detention in remote facilities on Nauru and Manus Island in conditions the UNHCR has assessed as breaching international human rights standards.

We call on the Council and member States to remind Australia that at a time of unprecedented global need, Australia must respect international law and share responsibility for refugee protection, not breach international law in order to shift responsibility elsewhere. Australia must contribute to, not undermine, efforts to tackle the global challenge of refugee settlement.

Thank you.