Immigration policy ‘an international embarrassment’

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 30/09/2011

Reporter: Karen Barlow

The secretary general of Amnesty International says western nations are rapidly losing credibility when it comes to human rights and should stop lecturing other countries.


STEVE CANNANE, PRESENTER: The secretary general of Amnesty International says western nations, including Australia, are rapidly losing credibility when it comes to human rights. And he’s warning them to stop lecturing other countries.

Salil Shetty is in Australia for a speaking and fact-finding tour, while he is also due to meet the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd.

In his first interview in Australia, the Amnesty chief says Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and Indigenous people is deeply disturbing and an international embarrassment.

Karen Barlow reports.

KAREN BARLOW, REPORTER: When it comes to human rights Salil Shetty says no country has a clean record.

The visiting Amnesty chief says this is a problem for western nations acting as the world’s sheriffs or deputy sheriffs.

SALIL SHETTY, SECRETARY GENERAL, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: If they are going to be lecturing people they have to really shape up domestically and in their foreign policies. So it’s a kind of, you know, shape up or shut up.

KAREN BARLOW: The west is already under fire for its inconsistent response to the current turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

Salil Shetty says the international action in Libya has not been matched in the troubled countries of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

SALIL SHETTY: Cozying up to Gaddafi but cozying up to Mubarak before that.

But I mean Ben Ali, so I mean there was this American sort of thing you know that he might be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch kind of thing. And it’s really, and this is where the people in the Middle East and North Africa and indeed in many developing countries they look at all of these interventions with a great deal of suspicion.

KAREN BARLOW: And Amnesty’s chief points to other areas.

The use of the death penalty in the United States, most recently the execution of Troy Davis, and the US use of torture in the war on terror.

SALIL SHETTY: This is simply unacceptable, you know and this is where the, sort of, issue of double standards and hypocrisy really sort of starts to show up.

KAREN BARLOW: Salil Shetty is also critical of the Gillard Government’s stymied Malaysia solution, saying it’s not in line with international refugee laws.

SALIL SHETTY: Australia should know better. It is simply not acceptable, because they are very familiar with what is acceptable legally and what is not. But as I said, it’s, there’s a legal side and also a humane side. I don’t believe it is in consonance with Australian people’s values either. So I think it is wrong on all counts.

KAREN BARLOW: Amnesty also remains critical of the Northern Territory intervention.

Salil Shetty says it breaches the Racial Discrimination Act and talks down to Indigenous people

SALIL SHETTY: That’s the other blight, really, on this country’s, you know, otherwise decent human rights record and we are talking about a half a million people.

So it is not, you know, sometimes people think that we are talking about a handful of people. But the fact of the matter is if you look at the current policies and practices in the Northern Territory, what it’s doing effectively is widening the gap not closing the gap.

KAREN BARLOW: After visiting remote Indigenous communities and a detention centre, Salil Shetty will head to Canberra to meet Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, and other MPs.

SALIL SHETTY: And the issue of asylum seekers and the issue in the way in which they are addressing the Aboriginal people’s problems, they have to really raise the game and meet their international obligations.

KAREN BARLOW: Salil Shetty says it’s one thing to meet and speak with a politician. The question he asks is, what will they do with the information?

Karen Barlow, Lateline.

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