Faced with a new report that charges Australia with violating the rights of asylum seekers on multiple fronts, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said the country is "sick of being lectured" by the United Nations on human rights abuses.
A report presented Monday at the UN Human Rights Council finds that Australia has violated the rights of asylum seekers—mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Iran—under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Australia detains all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, holding them at offshore processing centers like the one on Manus Island, which has been the focus of ongoing detainee protests, including hunger strikes and violence.
The Abbott government is currently fighting dozens of individual lawsuits brought by current and former detainees over allegations of mistreatment and unlawful incarceration in Australia's extensive camp network, according to The Sunday Age. Two class actions—brought against the federal government and private contractors who operate the camps—are also underway on behalf of more than 1,500 detainees on Manus and Christmas Islands.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald:
Special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez found the detention of children, escalating violence in offshore processing centers, and the detention and proposed deportation of two groups of Sri Lankan and Tamil asylum seekers were in breach of Australia's international obligations.
Mendez's account reads, in part: "In the absence of information to the contrary, the Rapporteur concludes that there is substance in the allegations...that the Government of Australia, by failing to provide adequate detention conditions; end the practice of detention of children; and put a stop to the escalating violence and tension at the Regional Processing Centre, has violated the right of the asylum seekers, including children, to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Monday that the government "rejects the views of the special rapporteur that the treatment of illegal maritime arrivals in detention breaches international conventions."
And Abbott told reporters: "I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly, particularly given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea."
The Prime Minister added that he wants the United Nations to give Australia "more credit...for what we've been able to achieve in this area."
The Sydney Morning Herald called Abbott's most recent comments "extraordinary" and an escalation of "the Abbott government's assault on bodies that oversee human rights."
Just last month, following a deadly riot at Manus Island, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: "The practice of detaining migrants and asylum seekers arriving by boat on a mandatory, prolonged and potentially indefinite basis, without individual assessment, is inherently arbitrary."