Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers may breach international law

5th Aug 2013

Australia’s treatment of asylum seeking detainees may be considered akin to torture and urgent measures were needed to protect such vulnerable people under law, the Australian Lawyers Alliance warned today.

Protective measures needed included – the implementation of a federal human rights Act and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which would ensure greater oversight and inspection in places of detention in this country, the ALA said.

“According to the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture, ‘torture’ includes any form of suffering inflicted by, or at the instigation of, another including those acting in an official capacity,” ALA National President, Geraldine Collins, said.

“Under current Australian policies, asylum seekers suffering is a direct result of being locked away for indefinite periods of time with little or no information about potential dates of release, so this does constitute a form of mental torture and attracts compensation obligations,” Ms Collins said.

“Separating families through enforced repatriation to other countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea, also recently reported in the media, is just another form of torture to which Australia is guilty,” she said.

Ms Collins said it was time the Australian Government took measures to better protect people seeking asylum in Australia instead of forming hasty policies based on political popularity.

“Lack of human rights protections in this country paves the way for further abuse of those held in detention and will likely result in an every increasing compensation burden as a result of the ill treatment of such arrivals,” she said.

Ms Collins said in 2010, the Australian Government decided against introducing a federal human rights act to better protect everyone in Australia despite overwhelming support for such an instrument and clear evidence now being seen that better protections are needed for everyone in Australia.

And while Australia had signed OPCAT it was yet to ratify it, so proper scrutiny of detention centres could not begin.

“Latest news is that another detention centre is planned to be built in the NSW Hunter Valley to house up to 1000 more asylum seekers.

"How many more detention centres will be built before the government understands it needs to get its human rights foundations right to adequately protect those at risk of harm in this country,” Ms Collins said.

“Australia can’t continue to shunt innocent people around and then pen them in like cattle simply because these people arrive on our shores exercising their international right to seek protection from persecution.

"If it continues to do so, it only increases Australia’s burden of guilt and necessary reparations to repair the human misery such policies are causing,” she said.

Tags: Human rights Asylum seekers and refugees