Australia facing renewed scrutiny over indefinite refugee detentions | Pacific Beat

Australia facing renewed scrutiny over indefinite refugee detentions

Australia facing renewed scrutiny over indefinite refugee detentions

Updated 27 February 2014, 18:16 AEDT

The Australian government is yet to respond to a United Nations human rights body order to release a group of refugees in indefinite detention.

The UN Human Rights Committee ruled in August last year that Australia breached its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It did this by keeping 46 refugees with adverse security risk findings against them in Immigration detention centres around Australia.

The risk assessments were prepared by Australia's domestic security agency, ASIO.

Reporter: Kerri Worthington

Speakers: : Prof Ben Saul, University of Sydney; Trevor Grant, Tamil Refugee Council

WORTHINGTON: The Human Rights Committee upheld complaints made against Australia by the refugees who say their indefinite detention contravenes international law.

The Committee asked Australia to report back to it within 180 days of its finding that Australia had committed serious breaches of its obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory.

It also ordered the people be rehabilitated and compensated.

Their legal representative, University of Sydney Professor Ben Saul, says it was a remarkable decision, in which almost every legal argument put by the Australian government was rejected.

SAUL: And the UN said that Australia had committed more than 150 violations of international law. So this is the single biggest human rights case ever brought successfully against Australia, and yet Australia is still refusing to comply.

WORTHINGTON: Professor Saul says he's contacted several senior government figures, including Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General George Brandis, about whether the government plans to adhere to the international body's ruling.

SAUL:None of them have responded. ASIO doesn't respond. This is a situation where the Australian government seems eager leave these people in a legal black hole. And think it's important to know no other country does this except, I'd have to say, the United States in Guantanamo Bay. Every other comparable democracy doesn't indefinitely detain people without charge.

WORTHINGTON: The ABC has contacted the Immigration and Foreign Ministers, but has received no response.

However, in a statement to ABC's 7.30 program, the Attorney General George Brandis said the Government was working on a response to the United Nations.

(Excerpt from statement)

VOICEOVER: "The Australian Government is considering its response to the UN Human Rights Committee's views...ASIO's role is to access whether it would be consistent with Australia's security for a person to be granted a visa. ASIO's priority and responsibility is to ensure that Australia's security is not compromised."

WORTHINGTON: Professor Saul says another five refugees also in indefinite detention have separate complaints before the Human Rights Committee

He says the refugees are mostly Sri Lankan Tamils, as well as Rohingya Muslims, a Kuwaiti Bedouin, and a Palestinian.

SAUL: But what they all have in common is all of the were found to be refugees by Australia's own department of immigration. So these are people Australia has agreed Australia has international obligations to protect. And yet Australia is refusing to give them refugee visas to live here in Australia and has instead locked them up without charge or trial, indefinitely.

WORTHINGTON: The Tamil Refugee Council has taken an interest in the case, and its convenor Trevor Grant says the situation amounts to a natural justice deficit for the refugees.

GRANT: If you look at the situation with Australian citizens who are given adverse security assessments. They are allowed to see the evidence against them and they are allowed to challenge it in a court of law. For some reason this is not given to people who are declared as refugees by the Australian government.

WORTHINGTON: Mr Grant says ASIO has used predictive judgement -- which he calls guesswork -- to decide whether the refugees could be a threat to national security.

GRANT: That's not so and ASIO admits this because ASIO says they've never threatened nor would threaten Australia. They have not been assessed as a risk to Australia. The main recurring assessment is that they might support the Tamil Tigers, a group that no longer exists, that were wiped out, and a group that never, ever threatened Australia.

WORTHINGTON: The United Nations Human Rights Committee is meeting again in March, where the Australian issue is expected to be raised.

The chairman, the British human rights legal expert Sir Nigel Rodley, has told the ABC by email correspondence that Australia has requested and extension to act on the ruling.

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