Asylum seekers suffering ‘cruel and inhuman punishment’

23rd Jul 2014

The 157 asylum seekers being held on an Australian customs vessel on the high seas are being held in ‘torturous’ conditions which breach international conventions on civil and political rights, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

The statement followed a Federal Government admission in a document lodged with the High Court yesterday that the asylum seekers are being held in separate rooms and only allowed out for meals and ''approximately three hours'' of daylight a day.

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said this treatment breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)[1], to which Australia is a signatory, as well as United Nations regulations on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955)[2]. The conditions also breach the Convention against Torture and Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

“These people are being held under conditions which can accurately be described as cruel and inhuman punishment,” Mr Barns said. “The treatment they are currently experiencing at the hands of Australian authorities would be classified by many as torture.”

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners both outline the conditions under which people may be detained by the state,” Mr Barns said.

“These people also lack of access to legal advice, contrary to Article 14 of the International Covenant. Article 7 of the Covenant specifically says ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’

“Families are being held in separate rooms with no prospect of being released. Husbands, wives, children and other family members are spending the vast majority of each day isolated from each other,” Mr Barns said.

“There is a great deal of medical research on the psychological effects of prolonged confinement in a small enclosed space. This group of asylum seekers have now been confined and isolated for more than three weeks now. If this isn’t cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, then what is?”

“Australia has a non-delegable duty to people seeking asylum in Australia. It’s time the Government faces up to this and fulfils its international obligations,” Mr Barns said.



Tags: Human rights Asylum seekers and refugees