Culture

The UN Says Australia’s Treatment Of Asylum Seekers Violates The Convention Against Torture. Go Us.

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As if the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission, a man-bunned Russell Brandkids in detention themselves and possibly the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse weren’t enough, now the United Nations is getting in on the fun of pointing that Australia’s detention centres are horrendous places that ruin the people inside them. A new UN report due to be tabled at the UN Human Rights Council later today has found that parts of Australia’s asylum-seeker policy are in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture — a document noted for taking a bold and controversial stance that “torture’s bad and you shouldn’t do it” — making us just the best country in the world, ever. Go team!

The report was prepared by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez — exactly what a “rapporteur” is I’m not exactly sure, but it sure sounds important. More plainly, Méndez is one of the world’s foremost authorities on state-sanctioned torture — he launched the Americas branch of Human Rights Watch back in 1982, served as a Special Advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and worked for three years as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s go-to for the prevention of genocide. His fixation with preventing and exposing torture by governments is understandable, given he himself was tortured by the former Argentine dictatorship in 1975 for representing political prisoners in court. Basically, he’s probably a more reliable source of information about whether your country’s policies could be constituting torture than an Immigration Minister who abstained from the national apology to the Stolen Generations.

Among the findings, the report states that Australia has violated the convention in respect to “arbitrary detention and refugee determination at sea, without access to lawyers”. Australia has lately developed a nasty habit of processing asylum seeker’s claims at sea before handing them back to the countries they fled from — a practice that saw 37 Sri Lankan nationals arrested by their own government after Australia gave them back. The High Court recently ruled that the detaining of 157 Tamil asylum seekers at sea was technically legal under Australian law, as the Court cannot order Australia to comply with its own international obligations if domestic law conflicts with them.

According to Human Rights Law Centre director Daniel Webb, Méndez’ report also finds conditions in the Manus Island detention centre violate the convention’s standards, and calls for children in detention to be released. Considering the UN has been arcing up about Australia’s detention policies at least since that whole a-guy-was-murdered-in-one thing, it’s unlikely the government’s going to listen this time round. Still, it’s nice to fantasise that we might actually pay attention to news that a policy of ours literally constitutes torture. Baby steps!