Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)

Stanford International Human Rights Clinic (SIHRC)

Ferrovial, a large Spanish infrastructure company


GLAN and SIHRC have submitted a petition to the International Criminal Court alleging that Australia’s offshore immigration detention centers constitute a crime against humanity. These allegations include inhumane conditions, physical and sexual assault and rape of men, women and children, psychological torture leading to extreme mental illness, ‘epidemic levels’ of self-harming, and murder. The submission advises the office of the prosecutor of the ICC to open an investigation into both individuals and corporations involved.


Monday, February 13, 2017


Because Australia is a member of the ICC and oversees these immigration facilities, it is obliged to follow the Rome Statute, Article 7 of which defines a crime against humanity as, among other things, “deportation or forcible transfer of populations; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law.” In fact, this is not the first time someone has recommended to the ICC that it investigate Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. In 2014, an Australian politician requested the ICC investigate the offshore centers concerning crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the detention center on Manus was found to be illegal and unconstitutional by the Papua New Guinean supreme court 10 months ago because it deprived detainees of the constitutional right to liberty. However, the camp remains operational.

General Background

Since 2001, Australia has maintained offshore immigration centers on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus (part of Papua New Guinea) where it holds all asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Over the last 20 years, it has received 12000 – 13000 people every year and before Australia introduced tougher policies, a peak of 18,000 people were arriving by sea. Despite years of criticism for its treatment of asylum seekers from the United Nations, NGO human rights groups and other countries, Australia has continued to allow Ferrovial, a private company, to continue running both camps, which now hold approximately 2000 adults and children, 1500 of whom are formally recognized as refugees. Many of these people have lived in the camps for over three years with no release date in sight. Australian officials from both major political parties (the Liberal-National coalition and Labor) argue that the asylum seekers make dangerous journeys controlled by criminal gangs and it is in the interest of Australia to stop such trips from occurring. In fact, military patrol vessels intercept migrant boats and tow them back to Indonesia consistently and the government spends $1.2 billion per year maintaining Manus and Nauru. In a batch of incident reports concerning assaults, abuse, self-harm, and living conditions on Nauru leaked by The Guardian, over half involved children.

Additional Information

Of the many abuses detailed by multiple reports, here are some of the more tame ones:

  • Guards threatening to kill a child
  • Guards actually killing a person
  • A girl sewing her lips shut
  • A “cultural advisor” telling a woman that rape is common in Australia and people aren’t punished for it
  • People trying to hang themselves
  • Refusal to transfer people who need immediate medical attention to a proper facility, resulting in deaths
  • Two refugees setting themselves on fire

What’s Next

It remains to be seen whether the ICC will agree to begin an investigation into Australia’s offshore asylum system. In the meantime, Ferrovial has stated it will not continue to maintain the sites after its contract expires this October. If the ICC finds enough evidence to begin a trial, both Australian government officials and Ferrovial senior officials are vulnerable to prosecution.



Main Article


Leaked files from The Guardian



Australia doesn’t have a great record of detention centers in Australia either, especially for indigenous youth. This report requested by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was commissioned last year and the facility appears to still be operating today.


You can track news about Australian immigration and asylum here