In the context of the 28th session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, published a report on the communications transmitted to several Governments and their replies.
Concerning Australia, the Special Rapporteur considers, inter alia:
1. allegations of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, including children, and "escalating violence and tension at the Regional Processing Centre";
2. allegations of acts of intimidation and ill-treatment of two asylum-seekers at the Manus Regional Processing Centre, and immigration detention centre located in Manus Island; and
3. the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 and the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014, which passed both Houses of
Parliament on 26 November 2014 and 15 December 2014, respectively.
As for the allegations of indefinite detention and intimidation and ill-treatment of asylum seekers, the Special Rapporteur draws the conclusion that the Australian Government does not "sufficiently address all of the concerns, legal obligations, and questions raised in the initial communication, which prompts him to infer that the Government fails to fully and expeditiously cooperate with the mandate issued by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 25/13, as well as to comply with its obligation, under international customary law, to investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (...)"
The Australian Government therefore infringed the asylum seekers' right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment protected by the Convention against torture ("CAT").
In relation to the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 and the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014(see our previous article on this topic), which have raised serious concerns among the civil society and human rights organisations, the Special Rapporteur states:
"(...) both bills put Australia at risk of violating the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment, which has passed both the house and the Senate of Australia at this point, violates the CAT because it allows for the arbitrary detention and refugee determination at sea, without access to lawyers. The Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation Bill violates the CAT because it tightens control on the issuance of visas on the basis of character and risk assessments."
After the report was published, he Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, declared:"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”.