UN warns Government that deporting children to Nauru is likely to breach international law

UN warns Government that deporting children to Nauru is likely to breach international law

4 February 2016

The United Nations has intervened in the plight of 267 vulnerable people that the Australian Government intends to deport to offshore camps, warning the Government to adhere to its obligations under the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against torture and other cruel treatment.

The group of 267, at imminent risk of deportation to Nauru or Manus after yesterday’s High Court ruling, includes 37 babies, 54 children and over a dozen women who were sexually assaulted or harassed on Nauru.

The HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said it was now up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to do the decent things and let these families stay.

“When you have doctors risking jail to speak out, when Church leaders feel they need to offer sanctuary to kids, when the Government relies on retrospective laws to defeat legal challenges, when the United Nations has to remind us of our obligations under international law, then perhaps it’s time to accept that we’ve lost all perspective – there’s simply no excuse to condemn children to a life in limbo on a tiny island,” said Mr Webb.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights both issued statements.

“This decision by the High Court greatly concerns us as these children and their families face a great risk in being sent to a place that cannot be considered safe nor adequate,” said the Committee’s chair, Benyam Mezmur.

The Committee had last expressed its concern in 2012 when it reviewed Australia saying the Government has an “inadequate understanding and application of the principle of the best interests of the child in asylum-seeking, refugee and/or immigration detention situations”.

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner, also expressed his concern and noted that central to the High Court’s decision was a retrospective amendment to the Migration Act which was passed by the Australian Parliament shortly after the case was initiated.

“We are concerned that this amendment, as well as broader aspects of Australia’s policy on the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers arriving without prior authorisation, significantly contravenes the letter and spirit of international human rights law,” said Mr Colville.

He went on to warn that by deporting to Nauru the 267 people involved in the High Court, the Australian Government would be at risk of breaching the Convention against torture and cruel treatment.

“We believe that transferring these 267 individuals to Nauru could further damage their physical and mental health, and would put Australia at risk of breaching its obligation not to return any person to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the Convention against Torture,” said Mr Colville.

The UN said that Nauru is still not equipped to respond to the needs of severely traumatized individuals, including children and urged the Australian Government to refrain from transferring the individuals concerned.


For further information, please contact:

Tom Clarke, HRLC Director of Communications, on 0422 545 763 or