The Nauru detention centre. Photo: Angela WylieA leading international human rights group has blasted Australia’s asylum-seeker policy as “abusive” and says a serious rethink is needed to restore the country’s standing globally.
Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s most prominent rights campaign organisations, has said in its yearly report that Australia, while having a solid record on civil and political rights, was failing to respect international standards for asylum seekers and this was taking “a heavy human toll”.
The report also blasts new counter-terrorism laws, which had bipartisan backing from the major parties, as “overly broad and vague” – though that broadside was also aimed at a range of other Western nations.
In a statement accompanying the report, the organisation’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said that Australia had done “little to redeem its reputation” regarding asylum-seeker policy in 2015 despite international criticism.
“Australia needs to seriously rethink its abusive refugee policies and take steps to restore its international standing as a rights-respecting country.”
The report highlights a number of developments it says merit criticism, including the Coalition government’s “personal and unsubstantiated attacks” on Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.
It also singles out continued boat turn-backs, the gagging of Immigration Department contractors, the payment of cash to people-smugglers, the failure to resettle asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea, and evidence of sexual assaults on Nauru.
Mr Adams said Australia’s new counter-terrorism laws raised human rights concerns, particularly with the lack of legal safeguards in the new legislation that strips citizenship from dual national terrorists.
“Measures such as stripping citizenship from dual nationals without basic legal safeguards are major steps backwards for Australia,” he said.
The wider report, scrutinising human rights practices in more than 90 countries, said the “politics of fear” led many countries to wind back civil and political rights.
“Fear of terrorist attacks and mass refugee flows are driving many Western governments to roll back human rights protections,” said Kenneth Roth, the organisation’s executive director. “These backward steps threaten the rights of all without any demonstrated effectiveness in protecting ordinary people.”
Mr Adams said Australia’s own shortcomings undermined its own ability to call for stronger rights protections abroad including through its lobbying for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018.
And he added that Australia rarely tackled other countries on human rights abuses, particularly nations with whom it cooperates on border protection or has a significant trade relationship.
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