Human Rights Watch has lashed the Australian government as a "global embarrassment" over its handling of asylum seekers, which has again been elevated to the world stage through the Novak Djokovic visa drama.
In its World Report 2022, the leading human rights body also heavily criticised the government for allowing Indigenous Australians to remain significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system, for failing to take ambitious climate action and for restricting the rights of Australian citizens to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Human Rights Watch regarded Australia as a vibrant multicultural democracy, but expressed serious concerns about the indefinite detention for asylum seekers - some for up to nine years - highlighted by the detainees held in the same hotel where the Australian Border Force briefly housed Djokovic in Melbourne.
"We use detention as a deterrent. We try and make conditions inhumane so that it discourages others from coming and seeking asylum by boat," Human Rights Watch's Australia researcher Sophie McNeill told The Canberra Times.
"We've maintained this same policy for the last decade or so. It is a real embarrassment for Australians and it just tarnishes our global standing.
"For countries like Australia, which really should be advocating for democracy and rule of law in our region, it diminishes our global standing and makes it harder for other countries to take us seriously on these issues."
Human Rights Watch said access in hotel detention to sunlight, space and fresh air was limited and more than 20 asylum seekers had contracted COVID-19 while detained.
There were still more than 200 people detained in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and Australia had rejected offers by New Zealand to take people affected by Australia's policies.
The case of the Sri Lankan Murugappan family taken to Christmas Island from the Queensland town of Biloela and two years later released to community detention in Perth was also highlighted as a tough example of Australia's immigration policies.
"We're an outlier and a global embarrassment and I just don't think this is where Australians want to be moving forward," she said.
Australia was also criticised for restricting the rights of its own citizens to enter and leave their own country due to COVID. The human rights body highlighted the strict arrival quotas which had left more than 43,000 Australian citizens stranded abroad as the well as the temporary but strict ban on travel from India.
In the World Report, the 32nd edition reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries, but for the first time it has addressed climate change in its Australia assessment as a human rights emergency.
Human Rights Watch said the Morrison government had been found wanting, particularly over a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
MORE FEDERAL POLITICS NEWS:
"We need the Australian government to take the action that it needs to prevent the worst catastrophic climate outcomes," Ms McNeill said.
"So many nations are making sacrifices and taking the hard steps needed to reduce their emissions. And here in Australia, it's like we haven't quite realised what a crisis it is and what it will be for our country and for our children."
The annual human rights report also criticised Australia's rates of Indigenous incarceration. Thirty per cent of Australia's adult prison population identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, but just 3 per cent of the national population are First Nations people. Indigenous children were 17 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous children.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: