High Commissioner for Human Rights puts Australia’s asylum seeker policies in UN’s sights

Australia must review its offshore processing arrangements with PNG and Nauru to ensure the basic rights of asylum seekers are being respected, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Ms Pillay has released the opening statement on her 2013 Annual Report, discussing issues of worldwide human rights concern. The statement will be delivered to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday night, Australian time.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that in addition to Australia’s practice of offshore detention, the statement deals with some of the most acute human rights issues around the world.

“Raising Australia in a statement that also addresses the human rights crises in Ukraine, Syria, North Korea and Sri Lanka shows the serious level of concern on the world stage about our treatment of asylum seekers” said Mr Webb.

While noting the need to take steps to prevent asylum seeker deaths at sea, the High Commissioner reminds states that international law prohibits them from treating asylum seekers arriving by boat less favourably. 

“The High Commissioner emphasises what successive Australian Governments have ignored - refugees have rights, irrespective of the mode of transport they use to seek protection” said Mr Webb.

“Deaths at sea are an absolute tragedy we must strive to prevent, but punishing survivors isn’t a necessary, humane or lawful policy response” said Mr Webb.

A copy of the High Commissioner's statement, to be delivered at 3pm Geneva time on Thursday 6 March 2014, is available here.