Human Rights Watch Savages Australia's Refugee, Terror Laws

28/01/2016 8:24 AM AEDT | Updated February 9, 2016 17:29
Fairfax Media

Australia's record on asylum seekers, counter-terrorism, rights of minorities and foreign policy has been savaged by Human Rights Watch in its 2016 annual report.

The international organisation's World Report 2016 devotes a chapter to Australia for just the third time in the report's history, lambasting policies including mandatory offshore detention, boat turnbacks, data retention laws and the revocation of citizenship for dual nationals convicted of serious crimes.

Also in the firing line are conditions in immigration detention facilities, the representation of indigenous Australians -- especially children -- in the prison system and the Northern Territory’s 'paperless arrest' powers.

"Australia has a solid record of protecting civil and political rights, with robust institutions and a vibrant press and civil society that act as a check on government power. However, the government’s failure to respect international standards for asylum seekers and refugees continues to take a heavy human toll," the HRW report stated.

"The government has also instituted overly broad and vague counterterrorism laws and has done too little to address indigenous rights and disability rights."

HRW's Asia director Brad Adams attacked Australia's policies and directly called for their reform.

“Despite the international outcry over its refugee policies, Australia did little to redeem its reputation in 2015," he said in a statement.

"Australia needs to seriously rethink its abusive refugee policies and take steps to restore its international standing as a rights-respecting country."

On asylum seeker policy, HRW detailed a number of concerns including the attacks on Human Rights Commission chief Gillian Triggs, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott claims that Australia was "sick of being lectured" by the United Nations after its special rapporteur on torture found detention centre policy was in violation of the Convention Against Torture. It also listed changes to the Australian Border Force Act which set out punishments for doctors and aid workers to spread information they obtained while working with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the wider practice of mandatory indefinite detention for unauthorised arrivals.

Counter-terrorism laws, including data retention and the stripping of citizenship for dual citizens, were also roundly criticised by the organisation.

"Measures such as stripping citizenship from dual nationals without basic legal safeguards are major steps backwards for Australia," Adams said.

"While Australia has a responsibility to protect those on its soil from harm, it shouldn’t be undermining respect for basic rights and staining its international reputation."

Concerns were also raised in the report about Australia's candidacy for a seat on the United Nations' Human Rights Council, considering the country's report card.

Earlier this month Michael Garcia Bochenek, the senior counsel for Human Rights Watch's Children’s Rights Division, claimed Australia's policy of immigration detention was directly based off the USA's infamous Guantanamo Bay prison.

"Australia’s own offshore detention of asylum seekers draws directly on the U.S. experience at Guantanamo in its earlier incarnation as a refugee camp," Bochenek wrote.

"Whether in the Pacific or at Guantanamo, offshore refugee detention is calculated to serve two underhanded purposes—to deter further arrivals of people who might be fleeing persecution and violence, and to create a law-free zone to evade legal scrutiny."

"Australia has taken Guantanamo as its model, and doubled down."

To read Human Rights Watch's full 2016 report, click here.

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