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Nauru breaching international law, says UN

23 April 2014

Nauru is breaching its international obligations by failing to establish an independent body to investigate torture and human rights abuses in the detention centre.

Nauru is breaching its international obligations by failing to establish an independent body to investigate torture and human rights abuses in the detention centre. The Nauruan government has also refused access to several United Nations groups wanting to inspect the centre. 

Questions have been raised about Australia's "disintergrating" relationship with the small island nation, which houses 1179 asylum seekers, and whether it is also breaching international standards by continuing to send people there. 

Nauru is in breach of a February deadline to establish an independent local body to regularly inspect the detention centre, a commitment it was supposed to meet after ratifying a UN anti-torture convention last year. 

Malcolm Evans, chairman of the UN’s Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture, said all member states were required to establish an independent body for overseeing detention centres and “Nauru has obligations now that it has clearly not fulfilled”. 

“Getting visits from outside is all well and good but having something that’s locally based is simply the most useful thing that can be done to try to prevent ill-treatment of people in detention,'' he said. 

By continuing to detain asylum seekers in Nauru, Australia was "at risk of putting that state in breach of its international obligations,” Professor Evans said. 

Fairfax Media has also discovered that several UN bodies have been prohibited from inspecting the detention centre, by having access suddenly denied or revoked. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly said the Australian government played no part in the decision  and respects the sovereignty of Nauru.

Earlier this month, investigators from the working group on arbitrary detention were blocked from entering the centre despite having been granted initial approval by the Nauruan government. The Australian government denied knowledge of the decision. 

One UN source said “at least three, possibly several more” visits were cancelled in the past seven to eight months while Fairfax has confirmed three visits by UN bodies have been cancelled since January. 

“There was a number of UN bodies that were supposed to go there but they’ve all been cancelled,” the source said, questioning Australia's role in the sudden cancellations. "We are plainly interested in only one thing: the camps, and that is in Australia’s jurisdiction." 

The Nauruan opposition has criticised the government for its "disintegrating" relationship with Australia, saying there should be more scrutiny of the running of the centre. 

Parliament has not sat for several months on the small island and the opposition, which has been prohibited from speaking to local media, says the government has become lawless under Justice Minister David Adeang, who took office in July.  

"He's the only decision maker and the only person in power," an opposition spokesman Mathew Batsiua said. 

"Nauru should not be shying away from these obligations and should be welcoming the UN bodies to come and do their job," he said. ''There is a lot of uncertainty. The Australian government should have some concern." 

Unlike Nauru, Australia is not one of the 72 states that have ratified the anti-torture protocol, but it is a signatory.



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