Worst I've seen, says UN asylum inspector

06.Jun.02,  first published by smh.com.au: read the original article here.

The United Nations has expressed its disgust at Australia's mandatory detention system, describing the Howard Government's policy of locking up asylum seekers for long periods as a gross abuse of human rights.

The stinging condemnation came yesterday from the head of a special UN delegation during private talks with two senior Government ministers.

The Herald has learnt that the head of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Louis Joinet, warned the Government he would declare his objections at a press conference today.

It is understood that Mr Joinet privately told welfare groups he had not seen a more gross abuse of human rights in more than 40 inspections of mandatory detention facilities around the world.

The UN's dismay was conveyed in separate meetings with the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, and the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.

Today's public condemnation will be a severe embarrassment for the Government, given its repeated assurances that its treatment of asylum cases - notably its rigid adherence to a policy of mandatory detention - does not breach international standards.

Mr Ruddock has touted the system as a model for other countries to follow in dealing with mass people movements.

This week he told Parliament that a number of European countries, including Britain, had begun implementing elements of the Australian approach.

But Mr Ruddock has been in conflict with the judiciary over his handling of immigration, and the detention system was criticised by another UN representative, Justice Prafullachandra Bhagwati, in private talks with the Government last week. The judge, an envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and Mr Joinet's team have just finished inspecting a number of detention centres.

The tours - tightly orchestrated by the Government amid accusations that millions of dollars were spent sprucing up the centres - included visits to Port Hedland, Woomera and Villawood.

The UN inspectors spent several hours interviewing detainees about camp conditions.

Mr Joinet's meeting with Mr Downer was delayed until late last night, giving the Government little time to prepare for the political fallout.

But Mr Downer told Mr Joinet the mandatory detention policy was deemed to be very successful and there was "no reason to modify it".

The Government had been bracing for an adverse finding since it gave grudging acceptance earlier this year to the inspections.

The visitors' findings bring the Government into direct confrontation with the UN.

But the mandatory detention policy has strong public support. While Labor is split over the issue, the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, has vowed to retain mandatory detention.