The Pacific island of Nauru, where hundreds of asylum seekers are held in a processing camp, has abolished its links with Australia’s highest court in what critics said is going leave vulnerable people without a right to appeal.
For more than four decades the High Court of Australia has been the final avenue for appeals on the island, where international monitors have raised concerns about civil rights.
Now it has emerged that the government of the tiny nation has severed its links with the Australian legal system, without yet establishing a new appeals process in its place.
Nauru said ongoing cases would not be affected, but Australian human rights lawyer George Newhouse warned it could impact asylum seekers sent by Canberra to camps in Nauru after trying to reach Australia by boat.
“Asylum seekers could [previously] appeal adverse decisions about their refugee status through the High Court of Australia,” Newhouse said. “Without an independent right of appeal, asylum seekers are at risk of being returned to harm or even death.”
More than 300 men, women and children are being held in a camp on Nauru, according to recent Australian immigration detention figures. Refugee advocates have criticized the camp’s conditions and said they were having a severe impact on the detainees’ mental health.
Concerns about civil rights in the Pacific country have been raised in the past by international monitors, but strongly refuted by Nauru.
Nauru defended the move to cut links with the Australian legal system, insisting it was no different from when Canberra stopped allowing appeals to Britain’s Privy Council in 1986.
“This move reflects our self-confidence as a nation state and reinforces our sovereignty,” the government tweeted yesterday.
The government added that it would establish its own Court of Appeal instead.
The 90-day notice was given on Dec. 12 last year and took effect early last month, Canberra said.
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