UN Human Rights Council told that Australia is violating international law by blocking & returning Sri Lankan asylum seekers

Australia violates its international law obligations by aiding the Sri Lankan government to intercept asylum seekers fleeing that country, the United Nations Human Rights Council has been told overnight in Geneva.

Delivering a statement to the world’s peak human rights body, the Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said Australia was violating the rights of Sri Lankan asylum seekers for domestic political gain.

“Australia is wilfully blind to the reality that the majority of Sri Lankans arriving by boat are fleeing ongoing human rights abuses and have a pressing need and a right to seek protection. Australia is not only helping to block their escape, but is also sending Sri Lankans back into the hands of the very authorities from which many have fled,” said Ms Howie.

Sri Lankan authorities claim to have blocked 4500 Sri Lankans attempting to leave in the last two years and Sri Lankans who arrive in Australia by boat are subject to a sub-standard “screening” process in which they are not provided with access to legal advice.

“So called ‘enhanced screening’ is an administrative shortcut. These are potentially life and death decisions and yet there’s no transparency around decisions to return people and the decisions are non-reviewable. It’s just not good enough,” said Ms Howie.

Australia’s forced return of Sri Lankans after such inadequate refugee determination process increases the risk of violating Australia’s obligation of non-refoulement.

“Australia has an obligation to ensure that it does not contribute directly or indirectly to the torture and ill treatment of Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Despite the risks, Australia does not adequately monitor the safety of the Sri Lankans it sends back,” said Ms Howie.

Australia is a candidate for membership of the Human Rights Council in 2018 and Ms Howie said Australia’s own human rights record would come under increasing scrutiny.

“If Australia wants its candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council to be taken seriously, then it needs to get its house in order. Its collaboration with Sri Lanka’s military is riddled with human rights risk and is in urgent need of a rethink,” said Ms Howie.

HRLC’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council is available here.

Australia’s cooperation with Sri Lanka on the interception and return of asylum seekers is discussed in detail in HRLC’s report, Can’t flee, can’t stay: Australia’s interception and return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, released last week.


For media inquiries contact Emily Howie in Geneva on +61 421 370 997 or Emily.howie@hrlc.org.au or the HRLC's Director of Communications, Tom Clarke, in Melbourne via tom.clarke@hrlc.org.au