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An international law expert from the University of Indonesia said on Thursday that Australia could be defying the 1951 Refugee Convention, based on the statement of Prime Minister Tony Abbott that Canberra would stop boats carrying asylum seekers that enter the country's waters.
"Abbott's statement which used Australia's sovereignty as the ground of his policies to turn back the boats is not in line with the convention. The asylum seekers were labeled as illegal immigrants without scrutiny first," Jakarta Post quoted Hikmahanto Juwanta, the expert.
Mr Abbott reiterated Australia's policy on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying, "For us, stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty and President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono, of all people, ought to understand, does understand, just how seriously countries take their sovereignty. So we will continue to do what we are entitled to do to secure our borders."
The professor said Mr Abbott's statement is very unfriendly to Indonesia and added that Australia still has policies that tend to violate human rights when "traditionally, it is nations like Australia which are supposed to preach developing nations how to respect human rights."
The controversy over Australia's new asylum seekers policy under the Abbott government was further fueled by accusations this week by African asylum seekers that they were tortured by Australian Navy personnel when their boat developed engine trouble while navigating toward Australia.
The refugees claimed they were beaten and made to place their hands on top of the hot boat motor engine which burnt their palms. The Navy denied the accusation.
However, the charges may go unquestioned because both Australia and Indonesia appear to be hesitant to further probe the accusation.
Boy Raflu Amar, spokesman of the Indonesian National Police, said the matter is under Australia's jurisdiction because the incident allegedly happened in Australian territory.
On Friday, The Australian published the account of Ali Muhammad, a Pakistani asylum seeker, whose boat was steered by the Australian Navy back to Indonesia after their vessel had problems when it was near Australia.
While he and the rest of the asylum seekers from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were not physically abused unlike what allegedly happened to another group of asylum seekers from Africa, he confirmed the deception used by the Australian Navy in saying they would be towed to Christmas Island when they were actually brought back to their starting point in Sukabuni, West Java, Indonesia.