GENEVA – Australia broke global human rights rules by denying a group of refugees a chance to challenge their detention, imposed on security grounds, a U.N. watchdog said Thursday.
The criticism from the U.N. Human Rights Committee comes as campaigning for Australia’s Sept. 7 elections puts the long-running issue of boat people at center stage.
“Australia’s indefinite detention of 46 recognized refugees on security grounds amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, inflicting serious psychological harm on them,” the committee said.
In a review of complaints from the refugees — 42 Sri Lankan Tamils, three Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and a Kuwaiti — the committee said the detention was arbitrary and broke the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The plaintiffs arrived at Australia’s remote Christmas Island between March 2009 and December 2010.
Despite being recognized as refugees who could not be sent home, they were kept in immigration detention centers on Christmas Island and mainland Australia because the Australian Security Intelligence Organization deemed them potential threats who should be denied a visa.
They filed their U.N. complaints in 2011 and 2012. Since then, seven have been granted Australian visas and freed. The committee said that Australia must release all 46, grant them access to justice and offer compensation.
“The committee reached its conclusion based principally on the fact that the refugees were not told the reasons for the negative security assessment and so were unable to mount a legal challenge to their indefinite detention,” the U.N. body said.
Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is trailing in the opinion polls, has gambled his fortunes on a plan to send boat people to impoverished Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement.