The United Nations Committee Against Torture has raised serious concerns about the Australian Government’s immigration policies and about conditions at offshore detention centres at Nauru and Manus Island.
The committee meeting in Geneva has requested a response to criticisms made by Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which described Australia’s offshore detention centres as “cruel” and “inhumane”.
The UN committee has also requested answers to allegations of sexual abuse and the death of Iranian detainee Reza Berati, why Indigenous people are severely over-represented in the country’s jails, and more information about the controversial new counter-terrorism laws.
Committee chair Claudio Grossman raised the committee’s concern regarding Australia’s asylum seeker policies.
“You [Australia] have the control and authority in the [detention] facilities. Australia pays the bills and administers the centres,” Mr Grossman said.
“I understand that there are private contractors… that you hired.
“So under the general principles of international law, it is not convincing to claim that Australia is not responsible for these people [asylum seekers].”
The head of the Australian delegation, John Quinn, told the committee that Australia took its obligations under the convention very seriously.
“Australia welcomes the opportunity provided by this constructive dialogue with the committee over the next two days to reflect on progress achieved and consider possible areas for further improvement,” Mr Quinn said.
Mr Quinn also told the committee the Government’s policy of offshore detention was aimed at preventing deaths at sea.