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

Item 6: General Debate, Statement by the Human rights Law Centre, Australia

Mr President,

We wish to update the Human Rights Council on major changes in Australia’s refugee policy and practice in the three years since Australia’s Universal Periodic Review.

We are deeply concerned about Australia’s unlawful and increasingly harsh and punitive treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

All maritime arrivals to Australia are subject to mandatory detention on Nauru or Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in conditions the UNHCR has assessed as falling well short of international human rights standards. 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.

In February this year, an Iranian asylum seeker, Mr Reza Berati, was killed during a disturbance at the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island in which around 60 others were injured.  

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. 

Australia has also gifted patrol boats to the Sri Lankan Government to help it block asylum seekers from leaving, despite widespread reports of ongoing human rights abuses in that country.

Australia’s advertisements, published in refugee producing countries, warn would-be refugees of the harsh treatment they’ll receive should they seek Australia’s protection.

Australia has also officially ceased granting protection visas to maritime arrivals and announced that no person coming by boat will ever receive permanent protection in Australia.

By seeking to prevent asylum seekers from arriving and outsourcing its obligations in respect of those that do, Australia is setting an alarming global precedent that must be condemned.

We call on Australia to ensure that its treatment of asylum seekers complies with the Refugee Convention and its other international human rights law obligations.

We call on the Human Rights Council and member States to remind Australia that refugee protection is a global challenge. Australia needs to share, not shift, responsibility for that challenge and must comply with the letter and spirit of its international obligations in doing so.