“The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says hunger strikes at Australia’s Nauru detention centre indicate that conditions for asylum seekers there are unbearable.
Asylum seekers on Nauru say hundreds of people there are refusing food and one man has not eaten for more than a month.
Ms Pillay has been in Indonesia investigating human rights issues.
She says the situation on Nauru is alarming.
“That is, I think, an indication of the unbearable conditions in which they’re being held, the uncertainty of their future,” she said.
She says there should be human rights protections on Nauru.
“And if that is done you wouldn’t have people going on hunger strike,” she said.
Ms Pillay says she fears current policy is leading to indefinite periods of detention and may be at odds with the UN refugee convention.
“I’m afraid that this new scheme of having them appraised on offshore islands is just going to end up in another regime of indefinite detention,” she said.
She says the UN Refugee Convention requires Australia to process asylum claims quickly and Australia has an obligation to provide humanitarian conditions.
Ms Pillay has appealed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to ensure there are human rights protections on Nauru.
“It would be a blight on Australia’s good human rights record if it doesn’t respect the rights of asylum seekers under the convention to which it is a party,” she said.
Yesterday an Immigration Department spokesman disputed the scale of the hunger strike.
The spokesman said the detainees were eating and drinking regularly”