SYDNEY, Australia: Tough plans by Australia's new conservative government to deter asylum-seekers, including towing back their boats, will be raised at the UN's Human Rights Council, lawyers said Tuesday.
The Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) said it intended to deliver a statement to the council's current session in Geneva seeking condemnation of prime minister-elect Tony Abbott's plans for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat.
Abbott says he will use the navy to tow rickety people-smuggling boats back to their place of origin -- typically Indonesia -- and will force those who do arrive or are already here onto a tough new regime.
They will be placed on three-year temporary visas with no chance of permanent residency, denied family reunion, appeal or legal assistance and made to work for government benefits.
The HRLC said that even the current policy had been assessed by the UN as inadequate under Australia's international obligations.
"Australia has just assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council, yet at a time that we're expected to provide leadership on the world stage, we're turning our back on our own obligations," said the group's Rachel Ball.
"This sends a very dangerous message to other countries that respecting human rights is optional," said Ball, who is the centre's director of advocacy and campaigns.
Australia was rapped by the UN last month for its indefinite detention of 46 recognised refugees on security grounds, with the Human Rights Committee condemning it as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment".
Ball said her organisation hoped member states of the UN human rights council would urge Australia to "stop shirking its responsibilities and comply with international law" by rethinking the plans, which also includes slashing its annual humanitarian intake by 6,250 places to 13,750.
"Plans to abolish independent appeal rights and withdraw legal assistance for asylum-seekers are an affront to the rule of law and will increase the risk of returning refugees back into the hands of their persecutors," she said.
The military towback plan is part of Operation Sovereign Borders, which Abbott has vowed will start as soon as he is sworn in on Wednesday morning. Several asylum-seeker vessels have already arrived on his watch.
The policy also includes a proposal to embed Australian police in Indonesia, buy up fishing boats to keep them from people-smugglers and pay locals for intelligence. It has received a cool reception in Jakarta.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Indonesia would reject the plans as not in the spirit of partnership between the two countries, prompting Australia's incoming foreign minister Julie Bishop to say Canberra was "not seeking Indonesia's permission to implement our policies."