UN human rights officials have raised “serious concerns” over the Morrison government’s ban on returning Australians from India and the harsh penalties for violations.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has questioned whether the controversial temporary measure – which can result in maximum sentences of five years in prison or $ 66,600 – meets Australia’s obligations in human rights.
“We have serious concerns about whether the biosafety determination – and the severe penalties that may be imposed for its violation – respect Australia’s human rights obligations,” a spokesperson for the United Nations said on Wednesday. office, Rupert Colville.
“In particular, article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which binds Australia, provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
In response to a request for comment from Guardian Australia, Colville said the UN Human Rights Committee “has stressed the limited power to deny the return of nationals, and considers that there are few circumstances if any, in which denial of the right to enter one’s own country might be reasonable.
“When assessing the issue of arbitrary deprivation, the key factors to consider are its necessity to achieve a legitimate end and its proportionality, including whether it is the least intrusive approach to achieve its public health goals.
“We note that the measure is expected to be reviewed on May 15. “
The ruling – criminalizing the return to Australia of anyone who has been to India in the past 14 days – was put in place by Health Minister Greg Hunt late Friday evening, using existing laws on biosecurity, but triggered a violent reaction.
Amid mounting pressure on his tough approach, including within the ranks of the Coalition, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is due to meet with community leaders on Wednesday to discuss the ban which prevents 9,000 people, including 650 considered vulnerable, to return to Australia. .
Scott Morrison and senior ministers have said they are acting in the interests of the security of Australians and downplayed the prospect that tough sanctions would actually be imposed.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the Prime Minister had “made it clear yesterday that no one will be jailed”.
“Obviously there has to be a hard line in regards to the Global Act in place, but no one will be jailed… yet,” McCormack told ABC News Breakfast Wednesday. “The Prime Minister was clear.
“We took this break. We did it in the national interest. We did it, based on the best possible medical advice. It is until May 15th. We are constantly reviewing it, as you would expect us to.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese called the government’s handling of the issue a “shambles”, asking: “Why are you making an announcement in the middle of the night about threats of five years in prison and massive fines, then days later say we won’t enforce the law?
In April, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Australia to quickly authorize the return of two vaccinated US citizens, as the body prepared to examine their complaints about the impact of Australia’s strict caps on international arrivals.
Assisted by senior human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, citizens say the implementation of these caps conflicts with the ICCPR.
Activists have previously described the situation as “dire” for many Australians who have not been able to return home, and say there is a feeling of “losing hope”.