Papua New Guinea rules ‘Australia’s Gitmo’ illegal

The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled April 26 that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea's constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said  that the ruling, "does not alter Australia's border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia." There are currently about 850 detainees on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.

The new ruling is in direct conflict with a recent decision by the High Court of Australia, which ruled in February that the country's offshore detention policy for asylum seekers is legal, rejecting a challenge that it violates the Australian constitution. The challenge was brought by lawyers for a female Bangladeshi detainee who was brought to Australia for medical reasons. Under the controversial policy, those who seek asylum in Australia arriving by boat are detained on the island nation of Nauru or on Manus Island. The policy has generated outcry from human rights advocates and some politicians. In October Amnesty International said that Australia's maritime border control agents have engaged in significant criminal activity, including bribery and abusive treatment of women, men and children who are seeking asylum. In February 2014 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for changes to the way Australia deals with refugees, especially in regards to the lengthy detention of asylum-seekers.

From Jurist, April 26. Used with permission.

Note: Both the Manus and Nauru facilities, as well as that maintained on the Australian territory of  Christmas Island, have been referred to as "Australia's Guantánamo."

  1. Self-immolation at ‘Australia’s Gitmo’

    An Iranian refugee who died after setting himself on fire at the Nauru detention centre was without doctor's care for two hours at the medical facility and lay in agony for a further eight hours before morphine was administered, his wife says. She says it then took 24 hours for a medical airlift team to arrive in Nauru, a six-hour flight from the mainland.

    Video emerged last week showing Omid Masoumali screaming in agony at the Nauru medical facility, raising questions about the standard of medical care given to him after he set himself on fire in front of three UNHCR staff last week. (Radio Australia, May 2)

  2. Manus Island detainees bring challenge before Australia court

    A group of more than 750 detainees held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea asked the Australian High Court on April 4 to order their transfer to mainland Australia and block a transfer to the detention center in the island nation of Nauru. The move comes after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled last week that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The 757 detainees, some of whom have been held for more than 1,000 days, allege that both governments have committed human rights violations. A hearing has been set for May 23. (Jurist)

  3. UN calls on Nauru and Australia to end detention of children

    The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling on Australia and Nauru to quickly end the immigration detention of children. This follows the release of more than 2000 leaked documents outlining allegations of assault and cruelty at the Australian offshore detention centre on Nauru, encompassing cases of sexual assault of detainees, including children. (Radio New Zealand)