There are growing concerns that the Federal Government has failed to address concerns about treatment of those held in off-shore detention centres, and with thousands of files detailing allegations of abuse having been leaked to the media this week, the government is being put under increasing pressure to include Nauru in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
The leaked files paint a bleak picture of life on the island for detainees, detailing heart-breaking allegations of horrendous abuse, including sexual and physical assaults between 2013 and 2015.
One report alleges a guard grabbed a boy and threatened to kill him, another says a guard physically assaulted a child.
Human Rights and Refugee Advocacy groups are again calling for urgent action, saying the detention system is clearly failing, and that the reports paint a sad and disturbing picture of ongoing abuse.
Calls to extend the current Royal Commission
In the wake of the published files, The Human Rights Law Centre, the Council for International Development, and the Australian Council of Social Service have revealed they sent legal advice on the matter to the chairman of the Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan in July last year.
“In a nutshell, the advice says that while the royal commission can’t go to Nauru and exercise coercive powers on Nauru, it can look at the response of the Australian Government and its contractors to child sexual abuse that occurred on Australia’s detention centre on Nauru,” Hugh de Kretser from the Human Rights Law Centre said.
“There has to be a connection to Australia — that connection is established by the level of control, financing and involvement that Australia and its contractors have over the institution that we have set up as a detention centre on Nauru.”
Mr de Kretser said the groups are frustrated that while the Royal Commission is working in Australia to prevent child sexual abuse, at the very same time “the Australian Government is warehousing kids offshore in conditions where that abuse thrives.”
“It has to stop,” he said.
Marc Purcell from the Council for International Development is urging the Royal Commission to accept the legal advice.
“There is Commonwealth responsibility for the harm being caused to people on Nauru and children,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission also believes that the Royal Commission should be extended.
Government denies responsibility
Despite the fact that Australia funds, and is responsible for, the management and operation of the detention facility in Nauru, the Federal Government has been deflecting responsibility since the files surfaced, with the Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton telling media that the cases of abuse published by The Guardian are Nauru’s problem to solve.
“Nauru is not part of Australia so this is an issue for the Nauruan Government,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the Government will investigate the files.
Former Immigration Minister, now Treasurer, Scott Morrison says the documents were not proof of mistreatment.
“It’s important to stress that incident reports of themselves aren’t a reporting of fact, they are reporting that an allegation has been made of a particular action,” he said.
The Department for Immigration says it is checking whether the reported cases have already been dealt with appropriately.
Nauru’s problems are ongoing
Nauru’s detention centre has long been a shrouded in controversy, and Human Rights activists regularly express concern for detainees, especially children.
In response to scrutiny several years ago, the Federal Government passed the Border Force Act in 2015 which imposes a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment on staff working in detention centres who speak-out about human rights abuses.
However, despite these laws, secrecy surrounding the day-to-day running of these off-shore detention centres is getting harder to maintain, as evidenced by the 2000 files leaked to media this week.
As more reports come to light, one hopes the Australian Government will respond appropriately and in a human manner, and it appears that extending the powers of the current Royal Commission would be a good place to start.