François Crépeau

UN rights expert postpones visit to Australia’s detention centres

SBS news
26 September, 2015

A human rights advocate says it is shameful a UN expert had to delay a visit to Australia over fears people could be jailed for disclosing details to him.

The reasons behind the deferral of a trip by a UN expert on migrant rights are a shameful reflection on Australia, a human rights advocate says.

Francois Crepeau, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said on Friday he had been invited by the Australian government for a visit between September 27 and October 9 to assess the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in the country and in its offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

But while preparing for the trip, he discovered that under the Border Force Act 2015, it was possible for detention centre workers who disclosed “protected information” to be sent to jail for up to two years, he said.

“This threat of reprisals with persons who would want to cooperate with me on the occasion of this official visit is unacceptable,” he said.

“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.”

He was also extremely disappointed the government had not granted him access to any offshore detention centres, despite months of efforts to gain its cooperation.

“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 said.

The terms “migrant”, “refugee” and “asylum seeker” are being used interchangeably to mean the same thing but there are important legal differences.

Australia director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson called on the government to give Mr Crepeau access and ensure no one would be prosecuted for giving him information.

“It is shameful that a UN expert had to postpone a visit to Australia due to lack of cooperation from the Australian government and a fear of reprisals,” she said in a statement on Saturday.

“The Australian government already had a reputation for lack of constructive engagement with the UN on refugee policy issues (and) this lack of cooperation just reinforces that view.”

Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre Hugh de Kretser told SBS World News the decision to cancel the planned visit is extraordinary.

“For a UN expert to postpone an official visit because of the fear that people he spoke to would be exposed to prosecution under the Border Force Act. So it speaks to the incredible secrecy and lack of transparency inherent in Australia’s harmful detention regime.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this week said he had concerns about asylum seekers being held in Pacific island camps, but gave no indication of immediate change to the hardline policy.

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