New UN human rights chief attacks Australia over asylum seeker rights 'violations'


Michael Gordon, Political editor, The Age

Australia's treatment of asylum seekers at facilities like Manus Island has been condemned by the United Nations.




Australia has been accused of a "chain of human rights violations" in its treatment of asylum seekers by the incoming United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein.


In his maiden address to the UN Human Rights Council, the Jordanian prince has also challenged plans to resettle those found to be refugees in "countries that are not adequately equipped".


In a copy of the address, to be delivered early on Tuesday morning, AEST, Prince Zeid castigates Australia over the policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers and the interception and turning back of vessels at sea.


He says the policy has led to human rights violations including "arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries".


A career diplomat, Prince Zeid took over the role from Navi Pillay of South Africa last month. His rebuke of Australia comes in a speech that begins by addressing escalating human rights violations in Syria and Iraq.


When he turns his attention to asylum seekers, Prince Zeid also expresses alarm at reports of children being detained in the United States and in Cyprus.


"Human rights are not reserved for citizens only, or for people with visas," he declares in the speech, obtained by Fairfax Media. "They are the inalienable rights of every individual, regardless of his or her location and migration status.


"A tendency to promote law enforcement and security paradigms at the expense of human rights frameworks dehumanises irregular migrants, enabling a climate of violence against them and further depriving them of the full protection of the law."


Prince Zeid also addresses the situation in Sri Lanka, urging officials to co-operate with a inquiry by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


"I am alarmed at threats currently being levelled against the human rights community in Sri Lanka, as well as prospective victims and witnesses," he says. "I also deplore recent incitement and violence against the country's Muslim and Christian minorities."


Australia's Human Rights Law Centre seized on the address, saying it is "embarrassing".

Australia's inhumane policies were listed in the speech along side global human rights challenges like the humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine and the spread of Ebola in West Africa.


"In his very first speech to the United Nations, addressing the most serious human rights issues in the world right now, the new High Commissioner devoted an entire paragraph to condemning Australia's treatment of asylum seekers," said the centre's director of legal advocacy, Daniel Webb.


Mr Webb said the speech demonstrated the seriousness with which Australia's "flagrant breaches of international law" were regarded on the world stage.


He said the policies of the current and the former government had clearly damaged Australia's international reputation - at a time when there are more displaced people in the world than since the end of the Second World War.

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The Australian

THE Coalition has entered a newly altered contract for significant expansions and upgrades at the Manus Island detention centre, now notorious over two asylum-seeker deaths.


The Abbott government has almost doubled the value and increased the scope of its Manus Island contract with West Australian construction firm Decmil, from $137 million to $253m, an announcement to the ASX shows.


The death of Iranian asylum-seeker Hamid Kehazaei last week intensified calls from refugee advocates and the Greens for the centre to be abandoned, and Fairfax Media reported last week that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was to wind it down.


But the expanded contract, revealed to the ASX on August 23, indicates an ongoing commitment to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea as an offshore processing centre. "The centre is not winding down," a spokesman for Mr Morrison told The Australian yesterday.


Decmil says its newly altered contract includes "additional operational facilities such as warehousing and storage, upgrade and repairs to roads, repairs to the existing water and sewerage treatment plants, improvements to public roads, and the inclusion of surgery capability in the medical facility".


Decmil is known for building accommodation amenities for fly-in, fly-out workers employed by Western Australia's resources sector.


There were growing criticisms of the Manus Island detention centre before Iranian asylum-seeker Reza Berati was killed there during a riot in February.


A Senate inquiry in June aired serious claims about safety and security.


Medical responses, amenities and hygiene at the centre have been the focus of much of the criticism since the family of Mr Kehazaei took the harrowing decision to turn off his life support in Brisbane on Friday.


He was declared brain dead about a fortnight after cutting his foot at the Manus Island centre.

Refugee advocates allege the filthy state of the facility, and a slow response from medical contractor IHMS, contributed directly to his death.


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New Matilda
5 Sep 2014

Children In Detention Inquiry Turns On Labor; Bowen Called To Appear

By Max Chalmers

Labor has taken pot-shots at the Abbott government's policies around children in immigration detention. But it will soon have to answer for its own deep failings. Max Chalmers reports.

In a surprise announcement, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has confirmed that former Labor Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will appear before a public hearing of its children in immigration detention inquiry, hot on the tails of Scott Morrison's tense Canberra appearance in August.

Bowen, who was Immigration Minister for two and a half years under Prime Minister Julia Gillard, initially promised to release all children from detention, but later broke the commitment.

"I look forward to appearing before the AHRC next Tuesday," Bowen said in a brief statement provided to New Matilda.

"I look forward to speaking about the framework which the previous Government established by which children and families were moved from held detention to community and bridging visa arrangements."

The AHRC has come under sustained attack from Liberal figures and conservative media commentators for allegedly targeting Morrison, and ignoring the problem of child detention while Labor was in office.

At his Canberra appearance, Morrison was forced to explain evidence presented by the Counsel assisting the Commission that the rate of release from detention slowed since he was appointed minister.

Days before his appearance, Morrison announced around 150 children would be released from detention, a move asylum seeker support groups decried as a stunt, arguing the releases were the result of a long held bi-partisan commitment and that Morrison was trying to draw attention away from his impending grilling.

Among the shocking testimony presented to the inquiry by psychiatrists, paediatricians, doctors and social workers who have spent time in detention centres, evidence has implicated both Labor and Liberal governments in the mistreatment of children.

Though Bowen stepped down from the Immigration portfolio before Labor introduced mandatory offshore processing and settlement, he oversaw the introduction of the 'no-advantages' rule, which resulted in a large number of asylum seekers being detained indefinitely in Australian detention centres. It is understood that a large number who arrived in 2012 are still held.

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