The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Tuesday that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea’s constitution [text], which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said [press release] Tuesday that the ruling, “does not alter Australia’s border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia.” There are currently about 850 detainees [BBC report] on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.
Tuesday’s ruling is in direct conflict with a recent decision by the High Court of Australia [official website], which ruled in February that the country’s offshore detention policy for asylum seekers is legal [JURIST report], rejecting a challenge that it violates the Australian constitution. The challenge was brought by lawyers for a female Bangladeshi detainee who was brought to Australia for medical reasons. Under the controversial policy, those who seek asylum in Australia arriving by boat are detained on the island nation of Nauru or on Manus Island. The policy has generated outcry from human rights advocates and some politicians. In October Amnesty International [advocacy website] said that Australia’s maritime border control agents have engaged in significant criminal activity [JURIST report], bribery, and abusive treatment of women, men, and children who are seeking asylum. In February 2014 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] called for changes to the way Australia deals with refugees [JURIST report] seeking asylum, especially in regards to the lengthy detention of asylum-seekers.