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Thank you Mr President,

On behalf of Edmund Rice International and Franciscans International, I wish to address the council on the current situation of human rights abuse in Australia’s offshore detention of asylum-seekers at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

It has been the policy of the Australian government since November 2012 to detain asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia by boat at a facility on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. On the 19th of July 2013, the Governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea  announced a new Regional Resettlement Arrangement whereby no asylum-seeker transferred to Manus Island would be processed or resettled in Australia, under any condition. Since the opening of this facility, media and concerned NGOs have been restricted from entry, and no cameras or recording devices are allowed inside. There are currently 1,332 asylum-seekers detained there.

The conditions of the facility at Manus Island have been consistently criticised as unacceptable by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),[1] international NGOs,[2] the Australian Human Rights Commission[3] and the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.[4] The Parliamentary Joint Committee concluded that the likely impact of the detention arrangements on physical and mental health was “contrary to the right to health in Article 12 of the ICESCR[,] and the prohibition against degrading treatment in article 7 of the ICCPR”.[5]

The UNHCR has twice visited the detention centre on Manus Island, and has concluded on both occasions, based on the absence of Refugee Status Determination processes in compliance with international standards, that the detention is arbitrary in nature,[6]  which is in violation of article 9 of the ICCPR.

On the 17th and 18th of February this year, violent unrest at the facility erupted, which resulted in the death of one asylum-seeker, Mr Reze Berati, and injuries to 77 others. The lack of transparency at the facility makes it difficult to ascertain a complete picture of events. However, based on eyewitness accounts reported to Australian media,[7] it appears a protest by detained asylum-seekers escalated when Papua New Guinean police, including a dog squad, were asked to enter the facility by the contracted security firm G4S. This lead to a violent clash involving local police, contracted security and detained asylum-seekers, which saw shots fired.

This unrest can be seen as a direct result of the harsh conditions of detention and its arbitrary nature, which have contributed to despair and mental illness within the detained population, and demonstrates the inability of the Australian and Papua New Guinean government to protect the rights of asylum-seekers detained there. As the Refugee Council of Australia argued, it was ‘a tragedy waiting to happen’.[8]

Recommendation:

We urge the Government of Australia to respect its international human rights and humanitarian obligations, and recommend that the Manus Island detention centre be closed immediately, and that Australia return to a policy of processing asylum-seekers on the Australian mainland, in compliance with international human rights standards..

Thank you.


[1]   UNHCR Mission to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, 15-17 January 2013, Findings; UNHCR monitoring visit to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, 23 to 25 October 2013, Summary of key findings

[2]   Amnesty International, This Is Breaking People : Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, 13 December 2013, ASA 12/002/2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/52aac41cb.html [accessed 3 March 2014]; Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2014, available at: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014 [accessed 3 March 2014]

[3]   Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, 22 February 2014, accessed at <http://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/opinions/we-cant-outsource-our-moral-obligations-these-people> on 4th March 2014

[4]   Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Parliament of Australia, Ninth Report of 2013: Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012 and related legislation (2013)

[5]   Ibid, [2.195]

[6]   Above fn 1

[7]   G4S SSO Eyewitness Statement, reported in The Guardian Australia, accessed at  <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/25/revealed-g4s-guard-says-he-invited-in-png-police-dog-squad-before-manus-riot> on 4th March 2014

[8]   ‘Manus Island disturbance a tragedy waiting to happen’, Refugee Council of Australia, 18 February 2014.

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