Commentary by Francois Crépeau: “Australia has adopted a policy which utterly violates the human rights of all human beings concerned. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is prohibited, and children must be treated according to the principle of “best interests of the child”, to name only a few international human rights law standards at stake here. Adopting a policy that treats harshly some individuals (who have incidentally committed no crime) in order to deter others from a particular behaviour is a violation of the fundamental principle of individualisation in the human rights doctrine, itself based on Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”). Australian authorities will not avoid moral, political and legal condemnation for such an outrageous treatment of children, for the welfare of whom they are responsible.”
The tiny island nation, site of Australia’s controversial offshore processing centre, has long been plagued with allegations of human rights abuses.
But a series of damning media reports recently has also highlighted a rapidly deteriorating situation for young people.
“We are starting to see suicidal behaviour in children as young as eight and 10 years old,” says Louise Newman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Melbourne who works with families and children on the island.
“It’s absolutely a crisis.”
Australia intercepts all asylum seekers and refugees who try to reach its shores by boat. It insists they will never be able to resettle in Australia, so over the years has sent many to privately run “processing centres” it funds on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.
Groups working with families on Nauru paint a brutal picture of life for children on the island. Many have lived most of their life in detention, with no idea of what their future will be.
The trauma they have endured, coupled with poor – and often dangerous conditions – contribute to a sense of hopelessness.
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