Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed UN criticism of Australia’s asylum seeker policies.
A report by the United Nation Committee on Torture, released on Saturday, has slammed Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, warning of physical and mental suffering, persecution and abuse.
It’s also expressed concern at Australia’s policy of transferring asylum seekers to Manus Island and Nauru.
The report has found there were harsh conditions in mandatory detention, with overcrowding, inadequate health care, and allegations of sexual abuse and ill-treatment.
Mr Morrison made it very clear that only Australia will decide its policies.
“I don’t share their view,” he said in Sydney on Saturday.
“Australia’s border protection policies are made in Australia, nowhere else.”
Earlier on Saturday it was revealed that 37 Sri Lankan nationals who were returned to their home country after their boat was intercepted off Cocos Island have since been arrested.
One other passenger was transferred for offshore processing.
Mr Morrison said he was very confident that the Australian government had fulfilled its international obligations in that situation.
“The screening process which we adopt … has ensured that we have acquitted our obligations as we must and as we do,” he said.
Human rights organisations have leapt on the UN report, saying it has condemned Australia in the eyes of the world.
“On asylum seekers, Australia is acting in absolute defiance of international law and is being condemned on the world stage for doing so,” the Human Rights Law Centre’s Daniel Webb said in a statement.
Australia is not allowed to torture people or send people back to a place where they’re in danger of being tortured, said Mr Webb, who briefed the UN committee in Geneva.
Sending people back without thoroughly assessing their refugee claims is “fundamentally incompatible” with Australia’s obligations, he added.
The report has also identified an attempt by the Australian government to make it even easier to return people to dangerous environments, Amnesty International Australia said.
“(The bill would) remove any requirement to consider when denying a request for asylum whether a person will be tortured or persecuted if they are returned home,” Amnesty International Australia’s Sophie Nicolle said in a statement.
The Australian Greens say Australia risks becoming an “international outcast” if current policies continue.
The UN committee also said Australia should increase efforts to address over-representation of indigenous people in prisons.
Indigenous people comprise about 27 per cent of Australia’s prison population, while constituting just two to three per cent of the total population.
The committee welcomed the work of the national royal commission into child sex abuse, but said the Australian government should do more to get evidence from the Vatican to ensure meaningful investigations can be carried out.
Cardinal George Pell has said the request is unreasonable because some documents are private and internal to the Vatican.
The report has provided survivors a “new hope”, said Nicky Davis of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The UN report reviews Australia’s record as a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
This is the first such assessment since 2008.
Also reviewed were Sweden, Ukraine, Venezuela, Burundi, the US, Croatia and Kazakhstan.