A consortium of international lawyers, led from England, has asked the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to take action against Australia for crimes arising out of its policy towards asylum seekers.

The Consortium has issued a 52-page Communiqué which alleges that the Australian Government is guilty of international crimes because of its policy of indefinite mandatory detention of refugee “boat people” and their forcible removal   to Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea) and Nauru (which is called the Pacific Solution).

The Communiqué fully explains that the Pacific Solution, which was revived in 2012 and remains in place, appears to have, as its primary objective, breaking the spirit of the people held on Manus or Nauru.

The mistreatment of asylum seekers is not limited to the Pacific Solution.  Christmas Island which is part of Australia, more than 1500 kilometers north-west of mainland Australia,  also had detention centres.

The people are kept in these “Offshore Processing Centres” whilst their asylum claims are processed.  Reports of cruelty and mistreatment are numerous and getting more serious.

The Communiqué is supported by witness evidence from doctors, workers, visitors and former detainees at the Offshore Processing Centres.  Key findings include:

  • As at 31 March 2014, there were 153 babies, 204 pre-schoolers (aged 2 to 4 years old), 336 primary school aged children, and 196 teenagers in Immigration Detention. As at 31 January 2016, 142 children remained in Immigration Detention.
  • The average child spends 231 days in Immigration Detention.
  • On average, the general population of refugees spend 457 days in Immigration Detention.
  • There is inadequate food and water, a lack of medicine and medical treatment, overcrowding, and a subsistence of violent incidents. Further, the length of detention is generally indefinite at the outset.
  • Conditions are unhygienic. On Nauru, showers are generally restricted to 30 seconds each day. Staff have said that the water has run out on multiple occasions, with overflowing, blocked toilets and faeces on the floor.

Reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are highly critical of the Pacific Solution and Australia’s treatment of those seeking asylum.

Amnesty International has also issued several reports equally critical of Australia’s policies towards refugees and the conditions in which they are held.

The Communiqué cites precedents in international law which show that Prime Ministers and Ministers for Immigration in Australia, Nauru and Papua New Guinea could be held personally responsible as perpetrators of crimes.

The lawyers behind the Communiqué consder that there is no option remaining, other than the International Criminal Court  (ICC).  Previous legal action before the UN Human Rights Committee, UN Human Rights Council and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) have not changed the Australian Government’s course.  Asylum seekers who have had their detention recognised as arbitrary by the WGAD and are still in detention over a year or more later – including those with children. The previous Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in response to comments by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated that ‘Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN’.

As such, the ICC is really the venue of last resort.

Courtenay Barklem, former human rights adviser at the Law Society of England and Wales said: “This scandal sullies Australia’s record on human rights.  We expect Australia to have higher standards and not to mistreat some of the most vulnerale people through deliberate government policies.  This diminishes Australia’s reputation in the eyes of the international community.”

It names every Australian PM and Immigration Minister since 2002, as well as Mr Baron Waqa (current Nauruan President and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade).  It details the cruel treatment of boat people by successive Australian governments:  communique-to-icc