The new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has used her maiden speech at the UN Human Rights Council to condemn the Australian Government’s indefinite offshore detention regime. In a powerful piece highlighting some of the world’s worst human rights abuses, Ms Bachelet described the Government’s detention centres in Nauru and Manus as an ‘affront to the protection of human rights’.
Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, who will travel to Geneva next week to address the Council, said that Ms Bachelet’s comments reflected growing international shock at the Government’s sustained cruelty to refugees.
“Our Government masquerades as respecting human rights on the world stage but its hypocrisy is being called out at the highest level. No government can truly stand for human rights while choosing to destroy the lives of innocent men, women and children,” said Mr Webb.
Ms Bachelet’s speech comes amid an unprecedented health crisis faced by people, including children, detained on Nauru for over five years. There are increasing reports of children self-harming and refusing food and water because of severe psychiatric disorders. Senior medical experts contracted by the Government have publicly warned that children could die.
“Our Government has detained 100 children in an island prison for over five years. Some of these children have never known a single day of freedom in their entire lives, and now kids as young as 10 are trying to kill themselves,” said Mr Webb.
“These kids should be free and full of curiosity and hope. Instead, they are growing up surrounded by suffering and despair. The situation is absolutely untenable.”
Ms Bachelet begins a four year term as High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of Jordan. Ms Bachelet is herself a former refugee. When she was in her early twenties, she was tortured by the right-wing Chilean dictatorship and forced to flee to Australia, where she lived briefly. After several years in exile, she returned to Chile and rose to be twice-elected president.
For interviews call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519