The Pacific island of Nauru, where hundreds of asylum-seekers are held in a processing camp, has abolished its links with Australia's highest court in what critics said will leave vulnerable people without a right to appeal.
For more than four decades the High Court of Australia has been the final avenue for appeals on the island, where international monitors have raised concerns about civil rights. Now it has emerged that the government of the tiny nation has severed its links with the Australian legal system, without yet establishing a new appeals process in its place.Nauru said ongoing cases would not be affected, but Australian human rights lawyer George Newhouse warned it could impact asylum-seekers sent by Canberra to camps in Nauru after trying to reach Australia by boat.
"Asylum-seekers could [previously] appeal adverse decisions about their refugee status through the High Court of Australia," Newhouse told AFP. "Without an independent right of appeal, asylum-seekers are at risk of being returned to harm or even death."
More than 300 men, women and children are being held in a camp on Nauru, according to recent Australian immigration detention figures. Refugee advocates have criticized the camp's conditions and said they were having a severe impact on the detainees' mental health.Concerns about civil rights in the Pacific country have been raised in the past by international monitors, but strongly refuted by Nauru. New Zealand in 2015 suspended foreign aid to Nauru over concerns about abuses after the island introduced laws carrying heavy jail terms for political protesters and curbed access to sites such as Facebook. Nauru defended the move to cut links with the Australian legal system, insisting it was no different from when Canberra stopped allowing appeals to Britain's Privy Council in 1986.
"This move reflects our self-confidence as a nation state and reinforces our sovereignty," the government tweeted yesterday. The government added that it would establish a local Court of Appeal instead.
The 90-day notice was given on Dec. 12, and took effect in early March, Canberra said. "Australia supports Nauru's sovereignty and its December 2017 decision to terminate the treaty in advance of the nation's 50th anniversary of independence," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday.