“Our Government will never want to talk about it here at this Council”: Turnbull Government taken to task over offshore detention at the UN

“Our Government will never want to talk about it here at this Council”: Turnbull Government taken to task over offshore detention at the UN

In a statement delivered in the United Nations overnight, the Human Rights Law Centre has called on the UN Human Rights Council to hold the Turnbull Government accountable for the continued suffering of 1800 refugees still languishing on Manus and Nauru after almost five years.

Behrouz Boochani, a refugee, journalist and filmmaker currently held on Manus Island said:

"We are asking the international community and the UN to put pressure on the Australian Government to take serious action and give us freedom."

"We have been in prison camps for five years. We are so tired of living in limbo. It's so important for us to see real action,” said Mr Boochani.

Daniel Webb, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, is at the UN in Geneva and delivered the statement overnight. Mr Webb said that while it was only two weeks into Australia’s first ever session as a member of the UN Human Rights Council it was already clear that domestic injustices risked tainting the Government’s credibility throughout its three-year term.

“The plight of these 1800 innocent human beings is the massive elephant in the room whenever our Government tries to talk to anyone about human rights,” said Mr Webb.

“I just can’t reconcile our Government’s words here on the world stage with the awful human suffering I have seen on Manus. The bottom line is that while our Government can blow its own trumpet all it likes, it will lack credibility and moral authority on human rights until it stops punishing people for seeking freedom and safety,” said Mr Webb.

This week the UN Human Rights Council also heard about chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the persecution of human rights defenders in Iran and the unfolding genocide in Myanmar. Mr Webb told the Council that the Australian Government is currently warehousing people fleeing these horrors on Nauru and Manus indefinitely.

"The Rohingya families being burned alive in their homes in Myanmar. The children dying in chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The journalists rotting in prisons for speaking truth to power. While the international community has been desperately sounding the alarm, our Government has been imprisoning people fleeing these very atrocities,” said Mr Webb. 

Mr Webb said that while some countries like Russia and China were seeking to directly undermine international human rights standards, abuses like the Australian Government’s offshore detention regime posed an insidious threat to human rights principles.

"Victims of cruelty and injustice all over the world desperately need governments like ours to be part of the UN’s principled spine, not a corrosive influence gnawing away at the very foundations of universal human rights with hollow words and unprincipled actions," said Mr Webb.

Australia was elected for a three-year term on the Council in October last year. This Council session runs until 23 March. The Human Rights Law Centre will attend every day of the Council session and provide regular updates on the Australian Government’s actions.

Read: HRLC’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council here.

 For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519

Photo credit: Matthew Abbott