30 January 2015


Its ongoing harsh treatment of asylum seekers is one of several issues (along with its indigenous incarceration rate and new anti-terrorism laws) undermining Australia’s global reputation as a defender of human rights according to Human Rights Watch in its annual report.

The report noted that Australia’s current policy on asylum seekers fails to meet international standards and that Australia has muted its criticism of human rights abuses of authoritarian governments such as that of Sri Lanka - apparently in the hope of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies.

The report quoted the UN Refugee Agencies criticism that asylum claims are “not processed in a fair, transparent, or expedient manner, with significant cost to detainees’ physical and mental health” and evidence from detention centre staff that “conditions were substandard, unsafe, and inappropriate”.

Due to restricted access to the immigration detention centres and government secrecy, together with the threatened consequences for anyone daring to speak out, information can be difficult to obtain.

That Australia’s ability to urge greater respect for human rights has been greatly diminished as a result of its asylum seeker policy has been highlighted in Indonesia recently where it was argued that the pleas for mercy by the Australian government for its citizens facing execution in Indonesia “reek of hypocrisy given that Australia is slowly disposing of “abject bodies” it does not want through inhumane detention camps or returning them to foreign regimes that will probably finish the job for them”.

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