UNITED Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay has called on Australia to undertake a review of its treatment of asylum seekers in the wake of the disturbance on Manus Island.
In an opening address delivered at the Human Rights Council 25th Session in Geneva in March, Ms Pillay said there was a pressing need to review the Regional Resettlement Arrangements which was implanted by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last year.
“Recent violence in the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, has underscored the need to review the Regional Resettlement Arrangements signed by Australia with Papua New Guinea and Nauru, to ensure that the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers are fully protected in accordance with international law,” she said.
Speaking more widely on the issue of migrants, the commissioner said she was also concerned about the boat tragedies being experienced in Europe.
“I am deeply distressed by the many boat tragedies off the coasts of Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain, and I call on the authorities to strengthen systems to protect against such events,” she said.
“I must emphasise that persons seeking international protection in the territorial sea or at maritime borders must be treated in the same way as those who apply for protection on land.”
In an address which also marked her final annual report as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay also touched on poverty and violence being experienced elsewhere in the word such as Egypt and Libya.
In light of Ms Pillay’s comments, Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning urged Australia to abandon the regional resettlement arrangement.
“The statement makes the point that Australia is failing to protect the human rights of asylum seekers asking for refugee protection and broadening negative measures in a region already characterised by its poor treatment of asylum seekers and refugees,” he said.
“While the Australian Government remains fixated on border protection, its appalling treatment of asylum seekers has not escaped the world’s attention, progressively destroying our long-standing reputation as a nation which respects and upholds human rights.”
Mr Glendenning suggested the only credible policy was a regional approach where Australia used its leadership as a Refugee Convention signatory to encourage other countries in the Asia-Pacific region to improve protection for refugees and “create genuine solutions for people fleeing persecution.”
Ms Pillay’s move to touch on the controversy surrounding PNG’s Manus Island on a world stage comes hot on the heels of an Australian Senate vote in support of a second inquiry into the February riot which resulted in the death of Reza Barati and caused injuries to a large number of asylum seekers.