By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
CANBERRA, Australia – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health is expected to review Australia’s immigration policies amid increasing international scrutiny.
Anand Grover will inspect detention facilities in Villawood and Brisbane, but not those at Christmas Island, when he visits Australia next month and will report back to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
Grover’s visit does not necessarily signify the existence of “shocking human rights violations”, according to a representative of an Australian human rights group, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre.
International concerns about Australia’s procedures for intercepting boats and processing asylum seekers has also prompted Human Rights Watch, an international organization, to take a closer look at Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s policies. This will be the first time since Rudd’s election in 2007 that the organization has decide to undertake an independent assessment of the Government’s policies.
In the past, Human Rights Watch was known to be highly critical of the Howard government’s policies concerning asylum seekers and temporary protection visas and issued “scathing criticisms” thereof.
Human Rights Watch is not the only group to express its concern with the Rudd administration’s treatment of asylum seekers. Several human rights lawyers and groups, including Amnesty International’s local branch, disapprove of processing these individuals in Indonesia as it has not yet ratified the UN Convention on Refugees.
The UN’s visit comes as the Government is attempting to win a $13 million bid for a seat on the Security Council. Australia is currently working to improve its diplomatic relations and reputation through various policy initiatives, including increased foreign aid, ratifying various international treaties and becoming more involved in regional issues.
Those in opposition to Prime Minister Rudd’s policies claim that he is “damaging Australia’s reputation”.
On October 26th the Australian Human Rights Commission issued a report, which outlines the Government’s policy on immigration detention and processing at Christmas Island.
The Rudd Government affirms its commitment to a policy of mandatory detention for all “irregular maritime arrivals” while processing claims and subjecting these individuals to health, security and identity checks.
Further, it maintains that the facility on Christmas Island is used to detain single men only. The Government promises that these detention facilities never house children.
The report also claims that it is “only right that [Australia] should treat people who seek [its] protection humanely… and meet our international obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”
Australia’s policy has come under increasing scrutiny as officials attempt to decide how to resolve the situation of seventy-eight stranded Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
An Australian vessel picked up the asylum seekers on October 18th. An agreement between Indonesia and Australia would allow them to disembark at an Indonesian port for processing at a detention facility just northwest of Jakarta.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, stated that the governments of both Australia and Indonesia have agreed that individuals rescued in open waters will go to Indonesia, and the UN High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia will process them.
The refugees, however, refuse to leave the boat because they want to go to Australia. Ultimately they do not have a choice in the place where they claim asylum.
Prime Minister Rudd claims the Government is prepared to use force to remove them from the boat. According to Indonesia, however, forcible removal is a breach of international law.
Despite mounting pressure, the Government has yet to resolve the fate of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
For more information, please see:
ABC News – Heat to end asylum seeker impasse – 29 October 2009
Bloomberg – Rudd May Use Force to Remove Sri Lankans from Ship, SMH Reports – 29 October 2009
Wall Street Journal – Surge in Refugees Presents a Problem for Australia – 29 October 2009
Brisbane Times – Indonesia governor rebels on refugees – 27 October 2009
Brisbane Times – Police head to Asia to fight smugglers – 27 October 2009
Sydney Morning Herald – UN puts Rudd policies in spotlight – 27 October 2009
The Government Monitor – Australia Government Committed to Mandatory Detention On Christmas Island – 26 October 2009