A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the department tried to detain people in the most suitable and least restrictive facilities. Photo: Angela Wylie
THE United Nations has given Australia a month to show how it will ''ensure'' the mental and physical safety of two refugees, one of whom tried to commit suicide earlier this month.
The man, who tried to hang himself, has been in detention for three years and five months. He had earlier told authorities he was concerned about the fate of his brother, who has been detained for almost four years, and who is reportedly suffering severe mental illness.
Both men have been given negative ASIO assessments and face being kept in detention indefinitely.
The men's lawyer, University of Sydney international law professor Ben Saul, took their case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in August 2011, along with 36 others.
At the time, Professor Saul urged the UN committee to ask Australia to release the detainees immediately to avoid them suffering ''irreparable [psychological] damage''. The committee declined.
Professor Saul wrote to the committee again last week in the wake of the man's attempted suicide.
''The [detainees] regret that the United Nations is unable to protect their rights at a time when the State Party [Australia] has proven itself systematically incapable of ensuring their safety,'' Professor Saul wrote.
He said Australia's ''unnecessary infliction of trauma'' upon the group in detention obliged Australia to provide ''effective remedies for such treatment, including appropriate compensation''.
The UN Human Rights Commission responded by asking Australia to provide information by December 17 on ''the concrete measures taken to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of the [detainees] and protect them from the risk of self-harm and to alleviate the high level of anxiety resulting from prolonged detention''.
It also asked Australia to carry out a psychiatric assessment of the brother of the man who attempted suicide, who is considered at graver psychiatric risk.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the department tried to detain people in the most suitable and least restrictive facilities.
''Every effort is made to ensure people have access to services and support, including access to comprehensive physical and mental healthcare, appropriate to their needs,'' he said.
He said the government was considering the High Court's recent ruling on people with negative ASIO assessments, which rules that denying people with adverse security assessments a protection visa was invalid.
The decision has thrown the legal standing of more than 50 people with negative assessments into doubt.
Mr Bowen's spokesman said the government had already announced people in that situation would, in time, have access to independent review, but would fully respond to the complex issues raised by the case ''in due course''.
Meanwhile, a group of Sri Lankans was deported to their homeland against their will on Monday. Since August 13, 425 Sri Lankans have been returned home, 326 involuntarily.