Australia lawmaker asks international court to probe asylum policy as crime against humanity

SYDNEY (AFP) - An independent Australian lawmaker said on Wednesday he had asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Australia's hardline asylum-seeker policies as alleged "crimes against humanity".

Mr Andrew Wilkie said he had resorted to the measure after years of attempting to change the practice of asylum-seekers who arrive by boat being sent into detention on Pacific camps.

The lawmaker said he had asked for an investigation "into crimes against humanity perpetrated by members of the Australian government against persons arriving in Australian waters who are seeking protection".

"The effect of the policy is that men, women and children are being forcibly relocated and then subjected to arbitrary imprisonment through mandatory and sometimes indefinite detention," Mr Wilkie wrote in a letter to the ICC. "The conditions they are forced to endure in detention are causing great suffering as well as serious bodily and mental injury."

Mr Wilkie accused the government of breaching the international conventions on refugees and the rights of the child and the international covenant on civil and political rights.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he would not be threatened by Mr Wilkie's move, adding that Australia's policies were consistent with domestic law and international obligations.

"The coalition government will not be intimidated by attention-seeking advocates calling for a return to the failed policies of the past that resulted in unprecedented cost, chaos and tragedy on our borders," he told the Australian Associated Press.

Under Australia's policy, initiated by the previous Labor government and continued under conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorised boats are transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru. They are refused resettlement in Australia even if found to be genuine refugees and must remain on the Pacific islands or return to their home countries.

Successive Australian governments have battled with an influx of asylum-seekers, many from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, who risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels to reach Australia. Scores of would-be refugees have drowned en route.

Prior to his election, Mr Abbott vowed to "stop the boats" and the hardline policy has seen boat arrivals dry up.

"The fact it might have achieved an election promise doesn't in any way give it authority to commit a crime against humanity," Mr Wilkie told reporters in Canberra.

He said while some people may have been prevented from risking their lives, thousands of refugees around the world faced persecution.

"Sure, we might have saved a few lives on our border but it's at the expense of a lot of other lives elsewhere around the world," he said.