Australia’s punitive asylum seeker polices set for more scrutiny at UN

Australia’s unlawful and increasingly harsh and punitive treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat will once again be brought the attention of the world’s peak human rights body this evening when the Human Rights Law Centre addresses the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The HRLC’s Directory of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, is calling on the Human Rights Council and member States to remind Australia that refugee protection is a global challenge.

“Rather than complying with its international obligations, Australia is setting an alarming global precedent that must be condemned. Australia should be sharing, not shifting, its responsibility for providing protection to those who need it,” said Ms Howie.

It has been three years since Australia’s human rights record was assessed at the UN during the ‘Universal Periodic Review’ and Ms Howie will use her speech tonight to update the Human Rights Council on the resurrection of the so called ‘Pacific Solution’.

“The camps hold over 2000 asylum seekers, but very few protection claims have been processed and arrangements are not yet in place for the resettlement of those found to be refugees. The UNHCR has said the conditions in the Manus detention centre fall well short of international human rights standards,” said Ms Howie.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive, Australia is now actively preventing others from coming.

“The Australian Navy is intercepting boats on the high seas and towing them back towards Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. This callous and isolationist approach does not offer any solutions, it simply pushes responsibility onto our neighbours,” said Ms Howie.

As documented in the HRLC’s recent report, Cant flee, Cant stay, Australia has also pursued a dangerously close relationship with the Sri Lankan military in order to help prevent would be asylum-seekers from escaping persecution.

“Despite the real risk of directly or indirectly returning people to face torture and ill treatment, Australia does not adequately monitor the safety of the Sri Lankans it sends back,” said Ms Howie.

Australia is campaigning to become a member of the Human Rights Council in 2018 and Ms Howie said Australia must lift its game if it wants to be taken seriously.

“It’s extremely difficult for Australia to be an effective advocate on the world stage if its own human rights track record is increasingly tarnished by a willingness to violate human rights for domestic political gain,” said Ms Howie.

Ms Howie said policies that seek to provide safe alternative pathways to protection need to be prioritised.

The HRLC statement to the Human Rights Council can be found here.


For media inquiries contact Emily Howie in Geneva on +61 421 370 997 or or the HRLC’s Director of Communications, Tom Clarke, in Melbourne via or on 0422 545 763