4 February 2016


Australia’s policy of deliberately mistreating and violating the rights of those who have sought its protection from violence and persecution, in order to deter others from seeking asylum, continues to attract widespread condemnation. Sadly it is also true that a majority of Australians continue to remain silent and indifferent to the evils being perpetrated in their name.

In the wake of a recent high court judgment, that it was lawful under the constitution and recently amended legislation, the decision to return more than 250 asylum seekers to Nauru, including babies and children, at least one of whom has been sexually abused by guards on Nauru, is the latest example in a catalogue of human rights violations carried out by Australia. (The High Court decision also ruled that the government could not create a regime of indefinite detention offshore)

The high court decisions sparked a wave of protest across Australia with churches offering to provide sanctuary for those under threat of deportation, and teachers and doctors risking imprisonment by speaking out about the likely effects of trauma on the children if returned to Nauru.

Visit the Get-Up website for more information about protest actions.

Already people who have committed no crime may be held indefinitely (some have now been in detention for 5-6 years), murdered with impunity (Reza Berati), sexually abused, and denied access to adequate health (Hamid Kehazaei) and education, where the media is effectively excluded and anyone with first-hand knowledge of what is taking place faces imprisonment for speaking out. Claims that the policy is to prevent deaths at sea ring hollow given the policy was enacted long before there were any such deaths.

In November, Australia’s human rights record was reviewed as part of the Universal Periodic Review. The review involves other countries providing recommendations to Australia about how it could improve its promotion of human rights. The country then decides how it will respond to these recommendations - whether they will 'accept' (work towards implementing them) or just note them.

In November over, 60 countries (ranging in diversity from Germany, Argentina and Italy through to Iran and North Korea!) made recommendations which urged the Australian government to change its policy towards Asylum Seekers and Refugees.  Recommendations (among others) included :
- ending mandatory detention
- closing offshore immigration detention centres
- releasing children from immigration detention
- addressing the issue of refoulment (the return of asylum seekers to countries where they face torture and death)

The recommendations can be found in the Report of the Working group which can be downloaded here.

The number of countries that chose to speak gives an indication of how out of step with international standards the Australian policy has become.

Email the Australian government at humanrights@ag.gov.au to express your opinion on how Australia might respond to these recommendations.

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