View from The Hill

Australia gets bollocking from UN Human Rights Commissioner – but we want a seat at their table

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says Australia’s policy of offshore processing is leading to a chain of human rights violations. AAP/Salvatore di Nolfi

As questions are asked about whether a young Iranian who died of septicaemia received adequate treatment, Australia’s asylum seeker policy is under attack in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The new high commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says in in his first speech to be delivered Monday in Geneva that Australia’s policy of offshore processing and its interception and turning back of vessels “is leading to a chain of human rights violations”.

These include “arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries”.

“It could also lead to the resettlement of migrant in countries that are not adequately equipped”, a reference to plans to send to Cambodia refugees from Nauru.

Australia is seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council for 2018. The bid was put in by the former government for a place on the 47-countries body, members of which are elected by the UN General Assembly. Australia is part of the Western Europe and other States group and is competing for one of two seats in this category. Members are elected for a three year term.

The High Commissioner’s comments feed into the current debate about the medical conditions on Manus Island, which have been again defended by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison but are strongly criticised by medical experts.

Morrison said on Monday he was disappointed so many people have “jumped to conclusions” over the death of Hamid Kehazaei last Friday, after being sent from Papua New Guinea suffering from septicaemia that started from a cut foot. He had been on life support.

There will be a coronial inquiry and Morrison has asked for a report from his department’s chief medical officer.

Morrison said 1200 people died from septicaemia in Australia annually, and the incidence of it is much higher in tropical areas. “This is just a very sad event and I have expressed the government’s deepest sympathy to family and to the friends of the young man,” Morrison told Sydney radio.

He accused the Greens of trying to extract political mileage from the death. Morrison was anxious to point out that there was the capacity to do blood tests on Manus Island. “There is a very well equipped medical team there and I have made references to the outstanding work that is done by those very professional doctors and nurses who work on Manus Island.

"For their credibility and professionalism to be called into question without any assessment of the primary facts by those making the commentary is typical, disappointing.” He said he would just focus on the facts, not on rumours.

Last week Kehazaei’s mother Goldone was quoted in Guardian Australia as saying the family was “furious” with the Australian government. “No one cared for my child. He was neglected – he kept saying his legs were hurting, and no one did a thing, they let him suffer.”

New Matilda last week reported Richard Kidd, a co-founder Doctors for Refugees, predicting that “we’re going to see other very serious bad health outcomes and probably more deaths”.

Kidd said this was why the Australian Medical Association had been strongly advocating for an independent medical authority to oversee the provision of healthcare services to asylum seekers and refugees.


In reply to The Conversation’s request for a response to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Morrison said on Monday night:

“I reject the allegations made by the High Commissioner and would be pleased to meet to discuss these matters as I do on a regular basis with the UNHCR.

"The most flagrant abuse of human rights I am aware of is the beheading and crucifying of people in Syria and Iraq where Australia is seeking to relieve the humanitarian crisis.”

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