headline above seems obvious to everyone but the Australian government and
its supporters. Below is the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission's report media pack introduction. To access the full
report go to their website at A
13 May 2004
AUSTRALIA BREACHES CHILDREN’S
A Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Inquiry
has found that children in Australian immigration detention centres have
suffered numerous and repeated breaches of their human rights.
In its National Inquiry into Children in
Immigration Detention Report- A Last Resort?, tabled in Federal
Parliament today, the Commission found Australia’s immigration detention
policy has failed to protect the mental health of children, failed to
provide adequate health care and education and failed to protect
unaccompanied children and those with disabilities.
The two-year, comprehensive Inquiry also found that the
mandatory detention system breached the UN Convention on the Rights of
the Child. It failed, as required by the Convention, to make detention
a measure of “last resort”, for the “shortest appropriate period of
time” and subject to independent review.
The system failed to make the “best interests of the
child” a primary consideration in detaining them and it failed to treat
them with humanity and respect.
Furthermore, the Government’s failure to implement
repeated recommendations by mental health professionals to remove children
with their parents from detention amounted to “cruel, inhumane and
The Report is the result of two years of careful
consideration of evidence and submissions. The Inquiry visited all detention
centres in Australia and took evidence from a vast range of individuals and
organisations - detainee children and parents, human rights advocacy groups,
medical and legal experts, State governments, Australasian Correctional
Management (ACM) and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and
Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) amongst others.
DIMIA and ACM were offered several opportunities to
make oral and written submissions to the Inquiry. The Inquiry treated DIMIA
and ACM’s responses, along with all other evidence, very seriously in
reaching its final conclusions.
Human Rights Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski said it was
time to release all children with their families from detention centres and
residential housing projects and for steps to be taken by federal Parliament
to ensure that no child who arrives in Australia ever suffers under this
“With every right there is a responsibility. The
Government has a right to develop its migration policy, but it has a
responsibility to uphold the conventions it has signed,” said Dr Ozdowski.
“Remember these are children with human rights. They are not numbers, or
“There have been more than 2000 children in
immigration detention over the past few years. We can act to ensure we do
not repeat the mistakes we made in their care and treatment. We have the
opportunity to change the system to ensure these breaches do not happen
“Last Christmas, there were more than 100 children in
detention centres and housing projects in Australia and there are still a
significant number of children in detention now,” Dr Ozdowski said.
“This is not ancient history. We are still abusing the rights of children
in detention today. Children are still behind barbed wire now.”
The Commissioner called on the Government to release
all remaining children within four weeks, for federal Parliament to change
the law to ensure that detention is no longer the first and only resort for
asylum seeker children and to ensure that decisions about the detention of
children be made by an independent court.
“For a country that is a passionate advocate of human
rights internationally and is currently the Chair of the Human Rights
Commission at the United Nations, this is a great opportunity to be a
leader,” Dr Ozdowski said.
“All Australians should look at these findings, read
the examples and think of their children, their grandchildren or the
children of their friends and ask themselves – how would I feel if my
children were raised behind barbed wire and their human rights were
abused?” asked Dr Ozdowski.
“Almost 93 per cent of these families have been
accepted as ‘genuine refugees’ so why do we lock them up for years
behind barbed wire?” asked Dr Ozdowski.
“The treatment of some of these children has left
them severely traumatised and with long-term mental health problems.
Children with emotional and physical scars will be a legacy of our mandatory
detention policy,” the Commissioner said.
(HREOC Media Release)