Agenda Item 13: Rights of the Child
Statement by Howard Glenn, Executive Director, Rights Australia,
on behalf of the Human Rights Council of Australia
61st Session, UN Commission on Human Rights, April 2005
On the Pacific Island of Nauru, a State which like Australia, has acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
there are six children whose situation is instructive. With their parents, they left Afghanistan and tried to reach
refuge in Australia by boat. They were picked up by the Australian Navy in late 2001 before reaching Australia, and have
spent their lives since in detention. These children have been in detention now since 2001, as part of the Australian
Government’s “Pacific Solution”, a program to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia.
The three girls are now aged 14, 8 and 7; the boys are 15 and 9, and a third boy was born in detention and is two years
of age. The children are amongst the last 54 of 1200 people who were detained on Nauru, in the detention camp
established following the interception of the Norwegian ship, Tampa. Remaining with the children are 4 women and 44 men.
According to reports from the camp, the children are all lonely and have found it difficult to watch all the other
children leaving to begin new lives. They have no friends left to play with. They of course don't understand why they
have been left behind. The parents are traumatised and find it difficult to cope with parenting in that situation. They
are in a camp full of depressed people.
There is no doubt that if these children had had their asylum claims heard in Australia, under Australian law, judicial
review, and public scrutiny, they would have got refugee status.
By paying the Nauru Government for the establishment of the detention camp – incidentally the single largest contributor
to the Nauruan economy – the Australian government has established a place where neither country’s laws apply – least of
all their commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
There are another hundred or so people on the Australian mainland, also detained for more than three years, like the 54
on Nauru. Continued complaint from several of the Government’s own Parliamentary Members has recently forced an
alternative approach for these people. But the Australian Government refuses this new process to those on Nauru – the
Minister for Immigration says “they are not on Australian soil”.
According to The Age newspaper, Australia’s Minister for Immigration, said the Australian caseload was “quite different”
to the cases on Nauru, offshore processing had been “one of the most successful weapons against people smugglers” and,
in any case, the Nauru caseload had “a pretty good looking-over last year”.
The payment of another country to take detainees and hold them outside one’s own law and obligations is a practice which
deserves serious attention. The treaty bodies and procedures which have examined Australia’s treatment of these and
other asylum seekers have proven ineffective against these abuses. Human rights organisations and media are kept off the
island through the simple process of denial of visas.
We welcome the Secretary General’s speech on reform, and in particular, I quote: “today I am also thinking of victims
whose plight is not so well known. I have in mind the weak, the poor and the vulnerable. I am thinking of all people who
are denied their human rights”.
A permanent, standing body of the United Nations, a chamber of peer review, would provide far fewer places to hide,
fudge and obfuscate. It is easy in the occasional periodic reports to the treaty bodies to pretend that there is no
problem – or to dismiss criticisms by saying that the situation has changed, or that there is an error of fact.
And six Afghan children spend the fourth year of their lives in detention as a result.
Detained on behalf of Australia by Nauru, 30 March 2005
Nationality Adult Male Adult Female Child Male Child Female Total
Afghan 21 2 3 3 29
Bangladeshi 2 0 0 0 2
Iraqi 18 2 0 0 20
Iranian 2 0 0 0 2
Pakistani 1 0 0 0 1
Total 44 4 3 3 54