'Shameful': Australia must lift game on human rights, Amnesty says

Detention centre inmates at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. (AAP) Source: AAP

Amnesty International has warned Australia must lift its game on human rights if it wants to win a spot on a special United Nations council.

Australia has a lot of soul searching to do if it's serious about winning a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International has warned.

Australia's record of sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, mandatory detention, boat push-backs and soaring indigenous imprisonment rates have copped heavy criticism in Amnesty's annual human rights report.

"We cannot be convincing on human rights on the world stage while we try to hide our own abuses under the carpet," Amnesty's Australian national director Claire Mallinson told AAP.

The warning comes despite a raft countries with dubious human rights records being members of the UN rights council.


Amnesty's deputy director of global issues Sherif Elsayed Ali told AAP at the report's London launch that Australia's asylum seeker policy was "shameful" and "one of the worst in the world".

He said holding people who fled war and persecution in offshore detention centres went against international human rights law and "horrific allegations of abuse" coming out of the centres were not properly investigated.

"The difficulty that even the UN is having to access these centres, all of this points to an extremely grim picture.

"I think it's absolutely shameful what Australia is doing."

Mr Elsayed Ali said Amnesty had called for an investigation into payments by Australian officials to crews of asylum seeker boats as part of the push-back policy.

"That is quite shocking, it is a potential involvement in an international crime."

The federal government is also lashed by Amnesty for justifying draconian legal changes on national security grounds.

Laws stripping citizenship from dual nationals accused of terrorism and banning immigration detention centre staff from speaking out about abuse claims are singled out.

Amnesty says the measures are part of a global trend that is unravelling human rights protections.

"Short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights," the report says.

Australia had shown "glimpses" of leadership on human rights in 2015, Ms Mallinson said, pointing to the decision to take 12,000 Syrian refugees and campaigning against the death penalty before two Australian drug smugglers were executed in Indonesia.

Calls for increased refugee intake

The rights group called for Australia's annual refugee intake to be increased to 30,000 people and the end of offshore detention.

It wants justice targets set to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal people locked up in prisons.

The report claims close to 100 countries committed torture while more than 30 illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger.

In almost 20 countries governments and armed groups had committed war crimes.

Some members of the UN Human Rights Council with dubious rights records:

* Bangladesh

* Indonesia

* Vietnam

* Saudi Arabia

* Burundi

* China

* United Arab Emirates

* Russia

* India

* Albania

* Kenya

(SOURCE: UN list)

Source: AAP