October 17, 2016 - 4:00 AM
CANBERRA, Australia - Authorities failed to adequately investigate complaints of violent crimes committed against asylum seekers held at Australia's expense on the Pacific atoll nation of Nauru, Amnesty International said Monday.
The London-based human rights group found in an investigation that it appeared that no Nauruan had been held to account despite allegations of dozens of sexual assaults and physical attacks from 1,159 asylum seekers and refugees who live among 10,000 local residents on the tiny island.
"According to confidential information provided to Amnesty International in September 2016, in the preceding two years there had not been a single prosecution involving refugees or asylum seekers as complainants in cases of assault, rape and theft," the report said.
Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the report repeated claims that had already been refuted. It said Amnesty International had failed to approach the Australian government to verify its allegations.
Australia attempts to deter asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia from trying to reach Australian shores by boat from Indonesian ports by sending them to immigration camps at Nauru or Papua New Guinea. Genuine refugees among them are told they will never be resettled in Australia.
The Guardian newspaper in August published more than 2,000 leaked incident reports from Nauru that included allegations of sexual abuse, assaults and self-harm among asylum seekers. The incidents were logged by the Save the Children charity between May 2013 and October last year.
Australian Federal Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Justine Saunders told a routine Senate inquiry on Monday that 14 of those incidents had been referred to Nauru police for investigation and one Nauruan had been charged with assault.
Nine investigations were closed due to insufficient evidence, one complaint was withdrawn and two investigations remained open, she said.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the same Senate committee he was confident Nauru police had the capability and intent to properly investigate such incidents.
Immigration Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo visited Nauru last week and told the committee that three charges involving asylum-seeker victims were before the court. He did not detail those allegations.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Australia is asking other countries to consider resettling asylum seekers from Nauru and Papua New Guinea, even if they are found not to be genuine refugees.
Amnesty International's report is based on research by senior director for research Anna Neistat, who travelled to Nauru in July for five days and met 58 refugees, asylum seekers and service providers.
The report criticized Australia's offshore processing system, saying it fit the definition of torture under international law.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016