A large scale human rights breach

Restricting the right to return to one's own country – a large scale human rights breach


Australia is the only country in the world that has actively prevented the return of its citizens and residents, and done so without an end date. It still has no foreseeable plan for ensuring that all that need to come home can return. The stranded Aussies emergency is set to worsen as no Australian leader has expressed any intention of expanding quarantine capacity to meet the demand. The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has even suspended international arrivals to that state. The caps are set to be reviewed by National Cabinet at the end of April meaning months more uncertainty and cancellations for those trying to get home.

Australia is a party to the International Civil and Political Rights Covenant (ICCPR), which states under Article 12 that ‘Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own’ and ‘No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.’ 

The United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently accepted petitions from several stranded Australians and issued an interim directive for the Australian government to urgently repatriate the petitioners while their complaints are adjudicated. The whole process of adjudication is expected to take at least a year. The directive is not legally enforceable in Australia.


For the Australian government to argue that Stranded Aussies have not been arbitrarily deprived of that right, they would have to make the case that there were no less restrictive measures available to them to protect public health. Australia’s proven ability to prevent hotel quarantine breaches from causing significant community outbreaks, Australia’s political leaders' choice to ignore expert recommendations to to implement home-based quarantine, along with the workable public health triumphs of Taiwan and New Zealand, confirm that the Australian government’s arrivals caps are excessive. Furthermore, both levels of the Australian government have prioritised entry for foreign nationals and the wealthy over their own citizens in desperate circumstances. It indicates that this crisis was caused by the negligence of political leaders rather than any legitimate public health concerns.


This large scale breach of human rights has also been enabled by the politics of division, exploiting public ignorance and fear.


While Australia is a party to the ICCPR, none of its articles are legally enforceable in Australia. Complaints to human rights bodies, however, may help to shame the government into action or influence future policy making.


See this article by an Australian human rights lawyer on putting individual complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Council. 


Also see our guides for making human rights complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations.