Australia’s reputation has been damaged by serious human rights issues including its “draconian” asylum seeker policy, overly broad counterterrorism laws, failure to protect children in detention and limits to the rights of people with disabilities, according to a new global report released by Human Rights Watch.
The report also notes indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned in Australia than non-indigenous counterparts and the nation still does not recognise the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Human Rights Watch reviewed more than 90 countries in its 687-page report and Australia’s asylum seeker policy drew most criticism for the nation.
“Refugees and asylum seekers languish in limbo after years of detention, and new laws will subject children to easy-to-abuse control orders,” Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“If Australia wants to be a global human rights leader, then it should take immediate steps to end these unlawful policies.”
Human Rights Watch recommends Australia take responsibility for the refugees it placed in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and end the system of offshore asylum processing and detention.
The organisation also criticised Australia for a double-standard on human rights.
“Australia raises human rights concerns in other countries, but does so very selectively,” the report states.
“It seldom raises human rights concerns publicly about countries it works closely with in interdicting asylum seekers and refugees or with which it has significant trade relations.”
Human Rights Watch also pointed to the footage released of “horrific treatment of children held in Northern Territory and Queensland youth detention centres”.
The CCTV video showed tear-gassing, hooding, shackling and stripping of children at a youth detention facility in the Northern Territory.
“Despite the report, Territory officials failed to act,” the report states.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s introduction last year of counter-terrorism laws was described by Human Rights Watch as incrementally chipping away at fundamental rights.
“Indefinite and arbitrary detention of prisoners who have already served their time undermines the rule of law, a crucial component of countering terrorism,” Ms Pearson said.
“While Australia has a responsibility to protect its citizens from harm, this shouldn’t come at the cost of undermining basic rights.”