Australia Slammed for Human Rights Failings
30 January 2015 at 12:23 pm
The Australian Government’s treatment of asylum seekers has seen it slammed by an international watchdog for its “failure to respect international standards” when it comes to human rights.
Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2015 on Friday, listing the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, disability rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, freedom of expression and the rights of Indigenous Australians as areas that Australia is failing in.
More than 90 countries had their human rights performances analysed as part of the report, but nations that were not seen as having failed in their duties, such as New Zealand, were not profiled.
The organisation said that while Australia previously had a solid record of protecting civil and political rights, 2014 had been a year of backward steps.
“The government’s failure to respect international standards protecting asylum seekers and refugees, however, continues to take a heavy human toll and undermines Australia’s ability to call for stronger human rights protections abroad,” the report said.
“In 2014, Australia introduced new overbroad counterterrorism measures that would infringe on freedoms of expression and movement. The government has also done too little to address indigenous rights and disability rights.”
Human Rights Watch did not mince words when assessing Australia’s treatment of refugees.
“As of October 31, 2014, 1,056 men were detained on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and 1,095 men, women, and children were detained on Nauru. At time of writing, only 10 of the Manus Island detainees had received final refugee status determinations. As of October 31, 2014, 261 of the Nauru detainees had been determined to be refugees and released into the community; 72 were denied refugee status,” it said.
“The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has criticised Australia’s offshore detention policy as “return-oriented.” The detention centers are overcrowded and dirty. Asylum claims are not processed in a fair, transparent, or expedient manner, with significant cost to detainees’ physical and mental health.”
The report also said Australia had failed to improve the situation for Indigenous Australians.
“While Indigenous Australians account for only three per cent of Australia’s population, they account for 27 per cent of Australia’s prison population. In part because they are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, Indigenous Australians are more likely to face stigma and discrimination in employment,” it said.
“While some health and socioeconomic indicators are improving for Indigenous Australians, they still on average live 10-12 years less than non-Indigenous Australians, have an infant mortality rate almost two times higher, and continue to die at alarmingly high rates from treatable and preventable conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses.”
The report specifically noted new security laws introduced by the Australian Government has having a negative impact on its human rights record.
“The National Security Legislation Amendment Act, passed in October 2014, grants Australian Security Intelligence Organisation officials immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for acts committed in the course of security operations,” it said.
“The legislation also makes it an offense for intelligence staff or contractors to disclose information relating to ‘special intelligence operations’. Journalists who disclose information relating to a ‘special intelligence operation’ face penalties of up to 10 years prison. The legislation does not provide any ‘public interest’ exception to this offense.”
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth said human rights violations were a major issue facing the world.
“Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating many of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and ensuring democratic accountability are key to resolving them,” Roth said.
“Some governments make the mistake of seeing human rights as a luxury for less trying times, instead of an essential compass for political action.
“Rather than treating human rights as a chafing restraint, policy makers worldwide would do better to recognize them as moral guides offering a path out of crisis and chaos.”