Australian Human Rights Commission barred from visiting Nauru
The President of Australia's Human Rights Commission has been barred from visiting the asylum seeker processing centre on Nauru as part of an inquiry.
The President of Australia's Human Rights Commission says she has been barred from entering Nauru to visit children detained in Canberra's asylum seeker camps.
The commission has launched an inquiry into the impact of detention on the health, well-being and development of children in the camps.
But Professor Gillian Triggs says her jurisdiction doesn't extend to other countries, which is the reason Australia's immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has given for not letting her go to Nauru.
She told Jamie Tahana why she feels an inquiry is needed.
GILLIAN TRIGGS: The primary trigger is that Australia still holds 1028 children in mandatory closed, and in many cases indefinite detention and we felt that, in fairness, it was appropriate to wait until the new government which has now been in power for five months to give it an opportunity to assess the position in relation to children - and adults for that matter - to adjust the policy to comply with International law. But we feel now after five months and the numbers now are at unprecedented levels in relation to children it was time to revisit the issue with a full inquiry. The other aspect that you may not be aware of is that as president of the Australian Human Rights Commission I do have the power to compel information. So to the extent that we have not been properly about the condition of children; the incidents of mental illness; of self harm by children, we will be able to compel that information and to compel appropriate government officials to provide information to us.
JAMIE TAHANA: Compel that information, I mean that's one of the things isn't it? That you haven't had full cooperation from the Department of Immigration.
GT: I'd have to say in fairness that historically we have worked very well with the department, but I think there's no doubt that the range and breadth of the information that we've historically had we do not have now. And so my questions for information, particularly about self-harm and mental illness have not been responded to and that coupled with the fact that we've given the government a pretty fair go at re-thinking their policy and managing the position with regard to children and getting them into the community. That hasn't happened and we feel it's now time to have a full inquiry using the inquiry powers to really get accurate and up to date information as to what's happening with these children.
JT: Do camps on Nauru and Manus Island come under this inquiry being in different countries?
GT: No, well that's exactly the point, they don't because they are sovereign countries and the minister will not facilitate my visit to them on the grounds that my jurisdiction as president doesn't extra-territorially to Nauru where children are being held. Children are not being held in Papua New Guinea Manus Island so that's not a concern for me directly at the moment but, I should say, that I nonetheless have the jurisdiction to consider complaints from families and from the children on those islands and similarly I have the power to enquire into why some children are being transferred to Nauru and others are not, why some children are allowed into the community and others are not. So I think we should get some accurate and hopefully balanced information as to exactly what's happening with these children and we'll be able to report to Parliament accordingly.
JT: But of course there have been quite a few concerns coming from that camp in Nauru, is anyone else able to investigate those claims on Nauru with the same powers you have?
GT: Well not an independent statutory body such as we are and that is really in a way the paradox that we have all sorts of groups like Amnesty, the UN, UNICEF for children, these are all reporting on the matter and raising the matter in international fora, but our own statutory body with human rights powers is not able to do so, so it's unfortunate. But other bodies, particularly the United Nations Human Rights Committee is currently, and has been, receiving complaints from detainees with children and has already given a ruling to the effect that to detain people in the sure knowledge that this will lead to mental illness is in itself a breach of fundamental human rights.
Professor Gillian Triggs says the inquiry is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
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