On a recent and brief visit to Australia, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Mohammed Javad Zarif, condemned Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, adding Iran to the long list of critics against Australia’s controversial asylum seeker policy.
Dr. Zarif used a media conference with Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, and media appearances to condemn Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in the offshore detention centres. He specifically drew attention to the deaths of three Iranian asylum seekers within the walls of these centres – Hamid Kehazaei, Reza Barati and Fazal Chegani – and noted the ‘unconscionable’ living conditions. ‘We don’t like some aspects of the way Australia treats Iranians who have been basically lied to by human smugglers who come to Australia,’ he said.
Foreign Minister Bishop had previously hoped to create an arrangement to return Iranian asylum seekers, who had their requests denied, back to Iran. Whilst Dr. Zarif noted that Tehran would welcome those asylum seekers who wanted to come back, this arrangement was not addressed. He also deflected the issue of the motivations of refugees in leaving Iran – he instead blamed human traffickers and smugglers misleading people.
These appearances were also utilised to deflect Iran’s history of human rights abuses. Recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran reported that Iran had executed the highest number of prisoners in over a decade, between 900-1000. Despite moderate President Rouhani’s ascension signalling hope for a change in the previous administration’s human rights abuses, Human Right Watch has reinforced these findings by documenting that security and intelligence forces are still clamping down on the media and activists, the courts are still handing down harsh sentences for minor offences and there is still a high execution rate for drug offences.
Australia’s asylum seeker policy, too, has been subject to great criticism from the international community. In November 2015, the UN’s Human Rights Council conducted its Universal Periodic Review on Australia, performed on a four-year basis. In the Review, Australia was questioned by 107 countries and was given at least 60 recommendations, predominantly criticising Australia’s refugee policies. Some of the countries to express concern over Australia’s policies included Saudi Arabia and North Korea, who said: ‘We still have serious concerns at the continued reports of…violence against refugees and asylum seekers and violation of the human rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia.’
Despite overwhelming criticism for its asylum seeker policy and its apathy, even from countries with histories of human rights abuses, Australia is not likely to overhaul its policy any time soon. Australia has continued to maintain its ignorance in the face of international criticism and this is worryingly becoming the norm.
The Australian Government’s formal response to the Universal Periodic Review is due in March 2016.
The UN Human Rights Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution to extend the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran’s mandate for a year on 23 March 2016, a move deeply supported by 34 human rights and other organisations according to Human Rights Watch.
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