HRLC Statement at the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Statement at the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

18 March 2014

Item 4: General Debate

Statement by the Human rights Law Centre, Australia

Mr President,

We are deeply concerned about Australia’s treatment of Sri Lankan asylum seekers and refugees.

In the last two years more than 8000 Sri Lankan people have arrived in Australia by boat. 

Australia provides intelligence, patrol boats and other financial resources to the Sri Lanka Navy and Police to intercept boats and block Sri Lankans from leaving their country.  Sri Lankan authorities claim to have blocked 4500 Sri Lankans attempting to leave.

Historically, the vast majority of Sri Lankans arriving by boat in Australia have been found to be genuine refugees.  Australia’s efforts at ‘stopping boats’ violates the right of Sri Lankans at risk of persecution to leave their country to access safety and asylum. 

Sri Lankan asylum seekers who are intercepted and detained trying to leave Sri Lanka are exposed to an unacceptably high risk of torture and mistreatment by the Sri Lankan military and police. 

Australia has also forcibly returned over 1100 Sri Lankans since October 2012.  Australia’s Minister for Immigration has been clear in his preference to return all Sri Lankans.

Sri Lankans arriving by boat in Australia are subject to a different and inferior screening process to other boat arrivals.

The process is an administrative shortcut in which asylum seekers are not provided legal advice or independent review of decisions about their cases.  Sri Lankans are returned to situations where their lives and safety may be at risk.

Despite these risks, Australia does not adequately monitor the safety of the Sri Lankans it sends back. 

Australia’s forced return of Sri Lankans after an inadequate refugee determination process violates Australia’s obligation of non-refoulement.

We call on Australia to respect its obligations under the Refugee Convention and international human rights law and ensure that it does not contribute directly or indirectly to the torture and ill treatment of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

Australia is a candidate for membership of the Human Rights Council in 2018. We therefore call on this Council to hold Australia to the highest possible human rights standards.