Border Force Act positions Australia alongside coterie of human rights abusing states

The secrecy provisions of the 2015 Border Force Act have compromised Australians’ basic democratic rights and damaged Australia’s international standing, the Human Rights Law Centre told the United Nations overnight in a statement to the Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said that for the first time ever, Australia has been named among the cases in the UN Secretary-Generals’ report to the Council on reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN human rights system. Australia features in the report after the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr Francois Crepeau, had to postpone his September 2015 visit when the Australian government failed to guarantee that the people he met would be free from intimidation and reprisals.

“The report places Australia among the likes of China, Iraq, Burundi and Sudan, who the Secretary General singles out as failing to protect the safety and wellbeing of victims, defenders, activists and other civil society groups who want to work with the UN system,” said Ms Howie.

Under Australia’s 2015 Border Force Act, government employees and contractors, including doctors and child protection workers, risk two years’ jail if they disclose protected information concerning Australia’s immigration detention regime.

“The Border Force Act helps to create and maintain a suffocating culture of secrecy around Australia’s immigration detention system, a system that contains sites of major human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, cruel treatment and inhumane conditions,” said Ms Howie.

“This report shows the long tail of negative impacts from Australia’s mistreatment of people seeking asylum - the basic democratic rights of Australian human rights defenders are also compromised. Unfortunately it is also symptomatic of a larger and worrying trend in Australia of heightened government secrecy and the erosion of basic democratic rights, such as free speech,” added Ms Howie.

Australia is seeking membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the 2018-2020 term.

“Australia has a strong track record, at least internationally, of protecting peoples’ rights to speak out on matters that they care about. As a candidate for the Council, Australia should demonstrate its capacity to protect and defend human rights both at home and abroad,” said Ms Howie.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy and Research, Human Rights Law Centre, 0421 370 997

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519