UN informed of Australia’s secretive return of Vietnamese asylum seekers

The Australian Government has secretly returned 46 asylum seekers to Vietnam without any transparency or due process. Late on Friday 17 April, when news first broke that the asylum seekers were in Australian custody somewhere on the high seas, the Human Rights Law Centre sent an urgent communication to the  United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said it was vital the United Nations be kept fully updated of Australia’s increasing contempt for international human rights law.

“Australia voluntarily signs international human rights treaties because we agree with the basic minimum standards of treatment they protect. We should never breach those minimum standards. When we do, it’s vital that there be accountability on the world stage,” said Mr Webb.

Mr Webb said that Australia had clear obligations under the Refugee Convention and other human rights treaties to not return people to harm and that hasty and unfair ‘screening’ processes conducted at sea didn’t cut it.

“Australia should never return a refugee to persecution. The only way to ensure we don’t is to thoroughly, fairly and individually assess protection claims, yet that’s precisely what the Government refuses to do when conducting secretive boat turn-backs,” said Mr Webb.

As Mr Webb said in The Age over the weekend, “All governments – whatever their policy position – should respect democracy and should respect the rule of law. Intercepting and returning asylum seekers behind a veil of secrecy is a deliberate subversion of both.”

A copy of the HRLC letter to the UN Special Rapporteur can be found here.

"If the government truly believed its actions were humane, justified and legal, why would it go to such extraordinary lengths to hide them from view?" said Mr Webb.