Australia must release refugees subjected to ‘cruel’ treatment – UN rights experts

Villawood Immigration Detention Centre outside Sydney, Australia, which houses asylum-seekers. Photo: IRIN

22 August 2013 – Australia’s arbitrary and indefinite detention of 46 refugees amounts to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” the United Nations Human Rights Committee has said, calling for their immediate release.

The refugees, who have been held in detention for at least two and half years, had been recognized as asylum-seekers who could not return to their homes. However, the Australian Government refused to grant them visas on the grounds that they posed a security risk.

The 46 refugees – 42 Tamils from Sri Lanka, three Rohingya from Myanmar and a Kuwaiti –were not told the reasons of why they were considered a security risk, and so could not mount a legal challenge to their indefinite detention.

“The combination of the arbitrary character of (their) detention, its protracted and/or indefinite duration, the refusal to provide information and procedural rights to (them) and the difficult conditions of detention are cumulatively inflicting serious psychological harm upon them,” the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee said in their findings following an examination of the case.

The Committee, composed of 18 independent human rights experts, found that the refugees’ detention was arbitrary and violated Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.

The experts said Australia is obliged, under Article 2 of the Covenant, to provide all 46 refugees with effective remedy. This includes releasing them under appropriate conditions, and offering them rehabilitation and compensation. Australia is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future.

The Human Rights Committee monitors implementation of the ICCPR by States parties. It considered this case under the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant which gives the Committee the capacity to examine individual complaints.


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