GENEVA - Australia broke global human rights rules by denying a group of refugees from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kuwait a chance to challenge their detention, imposed on security grounds, a UN watchdog said Thursday.
The criticism from the UN Human Rights Committee comes as campaigning for Australia's September 7 elections puts the long-running issue of boat-people in centre stage.
"Australia's indefinite detention of 46 recognised refugees on security grounds amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, inflicting serious psychological harm on them," the committee said in a statement.
In a review of complaints from the refugees - 42 Sri Lankan Tamils, three Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and a Kuwaiti - the committee said the detention was arbitrary and broke the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The plaintiffs arrived at Australia's remote Christmas Island between March 2009 and December 2010.
Despite being recognised as refugees who could not be sent home, they were kept in immigration detention centres on Christmas Island and mainland Australia because the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation deemed them potential threats who should be denied a visa.
They filed their UN complaints in 2011 and 2012. Since then, seven have been granted Australian visas and freed.
The committee said that Australia must release all 46, grant them access to justice, and offer compensation.