Monday, March 9, 2015 7:23 am
Prime Minister Tony Abbott lashed out at criticism over Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers on Monday, saying the country was “sick of being lectured” by the United Nations.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers arriving by boat into detention on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island or the small Pacific state of Nauru and refuses them resettlement in Australia, policies which are condemned by refugee and rights advocates.
In a new report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, the body’s Special Rapporteur on Torture added to the criticism by finding that aspects of Australia’s asylum-seeker policies violated the convention against torture.
“I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly, given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea,” Abbott told reporters when asked about the findings.
Australia’s conservative administration, which also turns back boats carrying asylum-seekers where possible, has succeeded in stemming the tide of would-be refugees arriving on unauthorised vessels.
Abbott said that putting an end to the dangerous people-smuggling route to Australia, mostly via Indonesia, was the “most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do”.
Hundreds of people drowned at sea as the people-smuggling trade flourished under the previous Labor government, he said.
“We have stopped the boats and I think the UN’s representatives would have a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government for what we’ve been able to achieve in this area,” he added.
The UN rapporteur found there was substance to the allegations that Australia failed to provide adequate detention conditions; end the detention of children; and put a stop to escalating violence and tension at Manus.
As such, it had violated the right of the asylum-seekers to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, it said.
Asked about the conditions that asylum-seekers lived in on Manus, Abbott said these were “reasonable under all the circumstances”.
“All of the basic needs of the people on Manus Island are being met … everyone’s needs for food, for clothing, for shelter, for safety are being more than met,” he said.
But Daniel Webb, from Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, said while Canberra always insisted it complied with all human rights obligations, the rapporteur found the policies were breaching international law.
“The report confirms that by leaving people locked up indefinitely in appalling conditions on a remote island, Australia is failing to meet this basic standard,” Webb said.