GENEVA (25 September 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crépeau, today announced the postponement of his planned official visit to Australia due to the lack of full cooperation from the Government regarding protection concerns and access to detention centres.
The human rights expert was originally scheduled to visit the country -at the invitation of the Australian Government- from 27 September to 9 October 2015, to gather first-hand information about the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in the country and in Australian off-shore detention centres based in neighbouring Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
“In preparing for my visit, it came to my attention that the 2015 Border Force Act, which sanctions detention centre service-providers who disclose ‘protected information’ with a two-year court sentence, would have an impact on my visit as it serves to discourage people from fully disclosing information relevant to my mandate,” Mr. Crépeau explained.
“This threat of reprisals with persons who would want to cooperate with me on the occasion of this official visit is unacceptable,” he stressed. “The Act prevents me from fully and freely carrying out my duties during the visit, as required by the UN guidelines for independent experts carrying out their country visits.”
The Special Rapporteur requested the Australian Government to provide a written guarantee that no one meeting with him during his visit would be at risk of any intimidation or sanctions under the Border Force Act.
“As the Australian Government was not prepared to give the written assurances required by the official terms of reference* for fact-finding missions by Special Rapporteurs, it was not possible for me to carry out the visit in my capacity as a UN independent expert,” he stated.
The terms of reference require, among other things, complete freedom of inquiry, access to all detention centres, and official assurances that no one who has been in contact with the Special Rapporteur will for this reason be subjected to judicial proceedings.
“Since March 2015, I have repeatedly requested that the Australian Government facilitate my access to its off-shore processing centres,” Mr. Crépeau said. “I was also extremely disappointed that I was unable to secure the cooperation needed to visit any off-shore centre, given the international human rights and humanitarian law concerns regarding them, plus the Australian Senate Inquiries on the off-shore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which raised concerns and recommendations concerning these centres.”
The Special Rapporteur, who had been in discussion with the Australian Government since January 2015 to organize the country visit, including consultations in the past weeks, expressed his gratitude to all those involved in supporting the organization of this mission, in particular the representatives of civil society organizations.
(*) Read the Terms of reference for fact-finding missions by special rapporteurs/representatives of the UN Commission on human rights: www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/docs/terms.doc