UN Committee Against Torture finds Australia guilty

It was hardly news, but when the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) tabled its report, finding Australia guilty of torture in its detention centres, Tony Abbott spat the dummy, declaring, “Australia is sick of being lectured to by the UN…”

Abbott was quite happy for the UN to give lectures to all and sundry when Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, was chair of the UN Security Council.

But this is the same government that, last November, in its submission to CAT insisted that violence against women was not torture, saying that, “As a matter of international law, domestic violence does not fall within the scope of the Convention.”

Abbott is out to shoot the messenger, just as he has attacked Human Rights President Gillian Triggs over its report into the mistreatment of children held in detention. The CAT has been scathing in its condemnation of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

The committee flatly rejected the long-standing position of successive Australian governments that what happens in the hell-holes of Manus and Nauru is the sole responsibility of the governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Committee chair, Claudio Grossman, said it was clear that Australia had “effective control” over the detention centres in PNG and Nauru, and so it was responsible for ensuring that they complied with Australia’s obligations under the convention. The report, released in Geneva in early March, also condemned mandatory detention and Australia’s use of offshore processing, stating, “The combination of … harsh conditions, the protracted periods of closed detention and uncertainty about the future reportedly creates serious physical and mental pain and suffering.” The committee said Australia should repeal the laws that send all “irregular” arrivals into mandatory detention.

In other observations, Committee chair, Grossman, said that the mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants and children runs counter to interpretation of the Torture convention.

The Committee also said its was concerned “in particular [about] the policy of intercepting and turning back boats, without due consideration of [Australia’s] obligations” under international law. No wonder Abbott wasn’t happy. The report is the strongest to date from any of the international human rights bodies.

But it will be the campaign here and the resistance inside detention, on and offshore, that will ultimately end mandatory detention and offshore processing. The “Welcome Refugees” Palm Sunday rallies in most cities (and 19 April in Sydney) need to be the biggest we can make them.

By Ian Rintoul


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