Australia Breached Torture Conventions
10 March 2015 at 10:19 am
The Abbott Government has been urged to accept the legitimacy of a United Nations report which found that Australia has violated the Convention Against Torture.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, claims that Australia has violated the convention by holding asylum seekers, including children, in indefinite detention.
The report found that Australia had failed to provide adequate conditions of detention and protect asylum seekers from violence in offshore detention centres and had wrongfully held Sri Lankan asylum seekers in incommunicado detention at sea.
The report also criticised the introducing legislation which allows detention at sea and tightens restrictions on access to visas.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has previously attacked Australian Human Rights Commission President, Gillian Triggs, for her report into children in detention, told reporters that Australians were “sick of being lectured” by the UN.
“I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations,particularly given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea,” Abbott said.
“The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats because hundreds, we think about 1200 in fact, drowned at sea during the flourishing of the people smuggling trade under the former Government.
“I think the UN's representatives would have a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government for what we've been able to achieve in this area.”
Refugee Council of Australia CEO, Paul Power, said the Government must not dismiss the findings of the report.
“The Convention Against Torture is designed to prevent some of the most serious of all human rights violations. The fact that Australia’s asylum seekers policies have been found to be in breach of this Convention shows just how low we have sunk in our treatment of people seeking protection,” Power said.
“This report should serve as a wake-up call for the Australian Government. Instead, the Prime Minister has chosen to question the Special Rapporteur’s credibility and dismiss his findings as a mere ‘lecture’.”
Power said Méndez was a foremost human rights expert, having previously served as Special Advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. Mendez was himself subjected to torture during administrative detention under Argentina’s military dictatorship.
“The role of experts like Mr Méndez is not to ‘lecture’ governments but to draw attention to serious human rights violations and advocate for people at risk of mistreatment. His advice should not be dismissed as a ‘lecture’ any more than the Australian Government’s appeals for clemency for Australians on death row in Indonesia,” he said.
“If the Prime Minister truly wishes to ‘uphold the universal decencies of mankind’ and ‘ensure that the best values of our world are realised’, he should spend less time attacking human rights experts and more time listening to what they have to say.
“There can be no doubt that Australia’s asylum seeker policies place us in breach of our international human rights obligations. Many of these policies were implemented during the life of the previous government. If the Abbott Government chooses to maintain these policies, it does so in full knowledge that it is perpetuating serious human rights violations.
“Australia must make a choice: do we want to stand beside governments which torture and mistreat their people or do we want to take a stand against them by protecting those who flee this cruelty?”