UN Slams Australia Over Asylum Seekers

UN Slams Australia Over Asylum Seekers
UN Slams Australia Over Asylum Seekers

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, Sydney Morning Herald wrote.

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 an inquiry by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"I am alarmed at threats currently being leveled 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 alongside 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.

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.