The United Nations cancelled a visit to Australia recently after criticizing the country’s policies in relation to detention centers it operates on the Nauru and Manus Islands. Australia aspires to take a seat on the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), so the news came as an unwelcome setback.
Australia’s passage of the Border Force Act this year outlawed disclosures about operations at the detention centers by immigration personnel employed there, with the potential penalty of up to two years in prison. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur, Francois Crepeau, was due to conduct an investigation of the detention centers on Sunday and cited the law as reason for the cancellation.
Mr. Crepeau stated that his visit would be unproductive due to the new law and that Australia has repeatedly denied his requests for access to the offshore facilities since March. Australia’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, stated, “The government accommodated to the fullest extent possible the requests of the office of the Special Rapporteur as it has with past visits."
Australia’s Department of Immigration clarified that Mr. Crepeau was scheduled to visit other detention centers in Australia, but any visits to the offshore facilities would have to be at the approval of the Papua New Guinea and Nauru governments.
The UNHRC holds as its mission, the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, which is why the U.S. State Department recently welcomed Saudi Arabia as head of one the key human rights panels this year.
Saudi Arabia has held a seat with the Council at various times, despite its status as one of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East. Its recent selection to head a human rights panel illustrates the farce that is the UNHRC.
For Australia, it is still better to have a seat at one of the world’s governing bodies, hypocrisy or not. Executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser said the cancelled visit was a great disappointment, “This is extremely damaging for Australia's reputation – particularly when our human rights record will be reviewed at the UN in November and we're seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2018. It's extremely damaging to our ability to advance our national interest on the world stage.”