Amnesty International, assisted by the Human Rights Law Centre, was granted leave to participate in the PNG National Court’s inquiry examining whether PNG human rights laws are being breached by the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island.
The HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said in the 16 months since the first transfers to Manus took place no asylum seeker has been able to bring a case to enforce their rights and, consequently, the PNG National Court has taken it upon itself to investigate whether PNG’s human rights laws are being upheld.
“The Australian Government has gone to great lengths and great expense to try to keep asylum seekers beyond the reach of the rule of law. Well, this inquiry takes the rule of law to them. The PNG National Court has gone to Manus and has seen for itself what conditions are like inside.” said Mr Webb.
As Mr Webb told Radio National’s breakfast program, despite having read every report published on Manus and having previously worked in PNG, he was shocked by the confronting conditions within the Manus detention centre. He described excessively cramped conditions, facilities in disrepair, a heavy security presence and a very tense atmosphere. Although he was not permitted to interview any asylum seekers, he said he was overwhelmed by people desperate to tell someone, anyone, their stories and plead for help.
Amnesty International Pacific Researcher, Kate Schuetze, welcomed the Court’s decision to grant Amnesty leave to participate in the case.
“Amnesty International is the only independent non-government organisation to have publicly reported on conditions on Manus. The National Court case is an important opportunity to address the key human rights concerns raised in our report last year” said Ms Schuetze.
Any orders made by the Court will be binding and enforceable. However, the inquiry has been temporarily suspended by a challenge in the PNG Supreme Court from the PNG Government, which reportedly has the blessing of the Australian Government. (Note: since this post was first published it has also been revealed that the Australian Government also bankrolled the PNG Government's challenge.)
The HRLC will continue to assist Amnesty International as the inquiry progresses with generous assistance from King & Wood Mallesons, Charles Scerri QC, Ron Merkel QC and Craig Lenehan.
The HRLC hosted a public briefing and Q&A session about the PNG National Court inquiry on 16 April in Melbourne and an audio recording of the event is available here.