Thursday, March 17, 2011

Will Christmas Island inquiry meet international human rights standards?

Amnesty International has called for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to immediately announce the terms of the inquiry into the use of force against protesting asylum seekers on Christmas Island, and to confirm that it will meet international human rights standards regarding independence and impartiality.

“Following revelations that bean bag rounds, fired by shotguns, were used against protesting asylum seekers on Christmas Island, Minister Bowen must urgently confirm that the incidents will be fully and independently investigated and that the finding of the inquiry will be made publicly available,” said Andrew Beswick, Campaigns Director for Amnesty International Australia.

“While the full details of the incidents in which tear gas and shotguns were used are yet to emerge, this use of force on Christmas Island is extremely concerning. Amnesty International expects that an independent inquiry will establish and disclose whether the use of force was appropriate and proportional, and whether the situation was properly managed by authorities and contractors prior to the deployment of force.

“So far, the Government response has raised more questions than it has answered.”

In 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommended that Australia establish mechanisms to carry out independent investigations of complaints concerning excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Amnesty International fully expects that the inquiry into incidents on Christmas Island comply with this recommendation.

While the Australian Federal Police guidelines governing the use of force are not publicly available, Amnesty International calls on the agency to confirm that they are in line with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. “Amnesty International has repeatedly warned of deteriorating conditions within the detention centres on Christmas Island,” said Andrew Beswick. “The Government must take immediate steps to address the underlying issues, including the length of time it is taking to process asylum claims, and the remote overcrowded conditions in which asylum seekers are being detained.”

Amnesty International has also reiterated its call for minimum standards of training to be introduced for all government and contractor staff who engage with asylum seekers in detention, including training in dealing with critical incidents and mental health issues.

The international human rights organisation continues to call for an end to the mandatory, offshore and remote detention of asylum seekers.


Following a visit to Christmas Island to inspect detention facilities and conditions in October 2010, Amnesty International provided this briefing to the UN Committee Against Torture:

Amongst the concerns raised by Amnesty International were the length of time it is taking the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to process claims and the lack of adequate medical, mental health and counselling services available to the growing populations in remote detention centres such as Christmas Island.

At the time of Amnesty International’s visit, hundreds of people were being detained in tent-style accommodation on Christmas Island and additional facilities were hastily being erected to cope with new arrivals. At that time, some asylum seekers had been detained on the remote island for over 16 months.

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