“Shocking” “disturbing”: Australian Government slammed for its cruelty to refugees at UN hearing

“Shocking” “disturbing”:  Australian Government slammed for its cruelty to refugees at UN hearing

For the second day running, Australian Government officials have endured an uncomfortable grilling by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

Just one day after condemning the Australian Government’s “chronic non-compliance” with international human rights laws, in a further hearing overnight the expert Committee honed in on the Government’s cruelty to refugees and in particular its offshore detention regime. The Human Rights Committee described the policies as “shocking” and “disturbing”.

The strong rebuke comes just two days after Australia was handed a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and just one day after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) delivered an extraordinary statement warning of an “imminent humanitarian crisis” and a "looming humanitarian emergency" on Manus Island.

Amy Frew, Lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre who is in Geneva for the hearings, said that it is clear that the UN is deeply concerned by the Australian Government’s deteriorating human rights performance, especially in the areas of refugee policy, the over-imprisonment of Indigenous peoples and the erosion of democratic freedoms.

“Our Government is just two days into a three-year term on the Human Rights Council and already it’s clear they will be constantly haunted by their own cruelty to refugees. Our Government can sit at the table and blow its own trumpet all it likes. But it’s crystal clear that for as long as our Government continues to warehouse 2000 innocent men, women and children on Manus and Nauru it will lack credibility and moral authority on human rights,” said Ms Frew.

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Remarkably, during the questioning, the Australian Government suggested it did not have a policy of mandatory and indefinite detention of people seeking asylum, despite numerous authoritative rulings from UN bodies, as well as the Australian Migration Act, clearly demonstrating otherwise.

“Instead of fudging the facts to try and save face on the world stage, the Government should do the decent, sensible and lawful thing – stop being deliberately cruel to innocent people and bring the men, women and children languishing on Manus and Nauru to safety in Australia,” said Ms Frew.

Arash Bordbar, in Geneva as an Ambassador for the Refugee Council of Australia and who also briefed the Committee as part of the Australian NGO delegation, added that:

“It is really clear that the Australian Government wants to talk about anything other than its cruelty to refugees. But it can’t hope to be taken seriously on human rights until it stops violating them,” said Mr Bordbar.

Video: Consideration of Australia (Cont'd) - 3419th Meeting 121st Session of Human Rights Committee

The Human Rights Law Centre and Kingsford Legal Centre coordinated a NGO delegation in Geneva to brief the independent expert panel before Australia’s appearance.

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Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, HRLC: +61 (0) 419 100 519