UN brushes off Australia PM's angry asylum-seeker response

UN brushes off Australia PM's angry asylum-seeker response
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

SYDNEY - The United Nations' special rapporteur on torture Tuesday brushed off Australia's "intemperate" response to his finding it had violated the rights of asylum-seekers, saying at least it stirred debate.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday lashed out at the criticism of his government's detention of asylum-seekers on Papua New Guinea's remote Manus Island and the small Pacific state of Nauru.

"I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations," Abbott told reporters.

Special rapporteur Juan Mendez, whose report to the UN's Human Rights Council was critical of Australia's detention of children, violence in offshore centres and changes to maritime laws, said he was not concerned by the comment.

"No, I don't feel disappointed," Mendez told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"At least we are getting a robust debate in Australia and that's more important to me than the initial reaction of government.

"In many other cases we get governments that either brush us off or don't respond at all, so I'd rather get an intemperate response than no response." Australia has been sending asylum-seekers arriving by boat into offshore detention and refusing them resettlement in Australia since 2013, under policies condemned by refugee and rights advocates.

Abbott's conservative government, which also turns back boats carrying asylum-seekers where possible, argues the hardline policy has "stopped the boats" bringing would-be refugees on the dangerous voyage to its shores, preventing deaths at sea.

In his report, the UN rapporteur found there was substance to the allegations that Australia failed to provide adequate detention conditions, end the detention of children and put a stop to escalating violence and tension at Manus.

As such, it had violated the right of the asylum-seekers to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, it said.

"I'm sorry that he considers what we do lecturing," Mendez said.

"We treat every country the same way and we just try to uphold international standards as we understand them." Mendez said there was no doubt that Australia behaved in a humanitarian way on the high seas and rescued those in peril.

"But that does not detract from the use of prolonged arbitrary detention of people just because of the status," he said.

In response Abbott said Australia had "stopped the boats" and the UN's representatives would have "a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government for what we've been able to achieve in this area".

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