In a letter to the Australian Government, 10 UN Special Rapporteurs stated that the complete lack of steps taken by the Australian Government to uphold the rights of Australian citizens, including children, has resulted in an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty and a 'sheer obliteration' of their rights.
The letter stressed the need for Australia to understand the potential for coercion, co-option, trafficking, enslavement, sexual exploitation, and harm upon joining or being associated with a non-state armed group like ISIS.
The letter highlights the medical state of the children and their mothers, who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and are underweight. Many have complex health concerns including shrapnel which cannot be extracted given the lack of proper medical facilities in the camps.
The UN reinforced that Australia must treat children primarily as victims as no child is responsible for the circumstances of their birth and cannot be punished, excluded, deemed unworthy of human rights protection by virtue of the status or acts of their parents.
This is the second letter the UN has written to the Australian Government this month regarding the circumstances of Australian children in Syria. The first raised questions about the fate of an Australian boy held in a prison attacked by ISIS in February.
Acting CEO of Save the Children Australia, Mat Tinkler said:
“The United Nations has called out Australia for failing to meet its obligations to children,” said Mr Tinkler.
“If this admonishment won’t prompt the repatriation of innocent, vulnerable children, exactly what will it take?”
“As the UN letter underlines, these children are victims of ISIS and should be cared for by their country as such.”
“The UN has made it clear, the only human rights compliant response is to repatriate these children.”
“After more than three years, we’ve heard every excuse in the book and none of them hold true.”
“The UN Special Rapporteur have said some of these children are at serious risk of abuse, trafficking, and recruitment for marriage.”
“The Australian Government’s response to the UN completely fails to answer the UN’s questions, including how they are protecting these children.”
“Save the Children fears it is only a matter of time before an Australian child dies if they’re left to languish in Syria.”
“The repatriation of children and their mothers by Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands in the last few months shows it is entirely possible.”
“There is no outstanding practical, legal or security barrier to repatriating these Australian children and their mothers.”
Earlier this year, Germany repatriated 27 children and ten mothers, Sweden repatriated four children and two mothers, and the Netherlands successfully repatriated 11 children and five mothers.
Over 60 Australians, including 47 children, are languishing in camps in northeast Syria.
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The letter to the Australian Government from the UN Special Rapporteurs can be found here and the Australian Government’s response here.
The letter to the Australian Government from the UN regarding the circumstances of boys and men held in prison can be found here and the Government’s response here.