U.N. again slams Woomera conditions
CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- A United Nations human rights envoy has slammed conditions in Australia's Woomera detention camp, saying the situation there in many cases was "inhuman and degrading".
The former chief justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati, visited the camp in May this year on behalf of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.
In his report, released late Wednesday, Bhagwati says a "more humane approach" to illegal immigration in Australia was needed, adding that the situation was a matter of serious concern.
The Australian government has rejected the report as "fundamentally flawed" saying it "lacks objectivity" and ignores the fact that the detainees have arrived in the country illegally.
Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for all illegal arrivals at its shores.
The report singles out for particular criticism the situation of children in detention, including unaccompanied minors.
It says the children were growing up in an environment which affected their physical and mental growth, leading to trauma, self harm and utter despair.
Justice Bhagwati said he felt he was "in front of a great human tragedy".
The report also condemns:
The "unduly long" periods spent in detention by some individuals;
The absence of proper judicial review of the detention itself;
A lack of adequate information for detainees about their rights;
The absence of a permanent, institutionalized, independent body to monitor and report on activities in Woomera and conduct unannounced and unfettered visits to the camp.
The government, in a statement released Wednesday evening, said the report misrepresents important aspects of the management of immigration detention.
It said the reports contains "a number of emotive descriptions and assertions that have no foundation in the human rights instruments to which Australia is a party".
"Nothing in Justice Bhagwati's report is cause to change the view that Australia's system of immigration detention is effective and not inconsistent with our international obligations," it said.
The Bhagwati report is the latest of a long line of damning exposes of Australian detention camps, particularly Woomera.
In June, a United Nations working group said it was worried that the conditions in the camps could directly lead to a "collective depression syndrome" that leads to self-harm and suicide attempts among asylum seekers.
The camps have been the scene of numerous riots and protests over the past two years, particularly at Woomera in South Australia where inmates earlier this year went on a 15-day hunger strike.
It was the Woomera action -- which included suicide attempts by children and self-mutilation, including the sewing together of lips -- which prompted Mary Robinson to send an envoy to Woomera to assess the situation there.
Since then the Australian government has been reducing the number of detainees held in Woomera and has indicated it may eventually close the facility down altogether if circumstances allow.
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