The UN says it is illegal for Australia to send refugees to Malaysia which has not ratified the torture convention.
In comments reported in Australian media today, Navi Pillay said the country should work on making its processing policy more efficient rather than sending detainees offshore.
“If Australia is serious about this policy of sending 800 people out to Malaysia, then I think it violates refugee law,” said Pillay, who is visiting Sydney.
“They cannot send individuals to a country that has not ratified the torture convention, the convention on refugees,” she said.
“So there are no protections for individuals in Malaysia. And Australia, of all people, that upholds (international standards), should not collaborate with these kinds of schemes.”
Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, nor has it ratified the UN Convention against Torture.
As it struggles to deal with an armada of asylum-seeker boats arriving from Asia and recent violent unrest in detention centres, Australia announced this month plans to transfer 800 boatpeople to Malaysia for processing.
In return, Australia will accept and resettle, over four years, 4,000 registered refugees currently living in Malaysia, although the deal is yet to be finalised.
Amnesty International claims asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will face lengthy waits to determine their status, inhumane detention conditions and even torture, in the form of caning.
The plan has been compared in the Australian media with the “Pacific Solution”, which was branded as “inhumane” by human rights groups before it was repealed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s centre-left Labor Party in 2007.
Under that policy, asylum seekers were transferred to detention centres on the tiny state of Nauru and Manus island in Papua New Guinea, which Gillard’s government is now in talks with over reviving its detention centre.
Pillay said she planned to raise her concerns with Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.
“The first option should not be how best to turn away people, the first option should be how to receive people,” she said.