UN human rights office raises concerns about sexual assault allegations by asylum-seekers in Nauru

27 October 2015

Underscoring the “fragile mental and physical condition” of ‘Abyan’ (the pseudonym for a Somalian refugee), who was allegedly raped in Nauru in July and was returned by Australia, the United Nations human rights office today called upon both countries to urgently provide decent mental and physical care for her, including provisions to terminate her pregnancy, if she desires.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Abyan, three months pregnant, was returned 11 days ago from Australia to Nauru, without a termination having taken place.

OHCHR, who reported to be in direct contact with Abyan said that she is ‘deeply traumatized by her experiences since the day of the alleged rape.’

“She has refused to give information to the Nauru police about her attacker because she is understandably afraid of reprisals. She does not feel safe, given that her alleged attacker lives on Nauru, which is a very small island State with a population of around 10,000,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

Mr. Colville also added that the UN human rights office is concerned about reports that Nauru police have failed to take action against alleged perpetrators of violence against women, especially when the victims have been asylum seekers and refugees.

He further said that OHCHR is aware of the rise in sexual assault and rape allegations since Australia resumed its policy of transferring asylum seekers to Nauru for processing in 2012.

“One Iranian asylum seeker was allegedly sexually assaulted last May. She was subsequently evacuated to Australia where she is still receiving medical treatment for both mental and physical consequences of the ordeal. Her brother and mother, however, have been left behind on Nauru and do not know when they will be able to reunite with her,” said Mr. Colville, illustrating the situation.

He also recounted the example of another allegedly raped Somali refugee whose police report, which included the name of the alleged victim and details about the rape allegation, was inappropriately given to the media. The authorities have failed to make any arrests in either case.

Mr. Colville stressed that OHCHR is highly disturbed at the trend as “impunity for such serious crimes increases the risk they will be repeated.”

Further, he added that the UN agency fears that this may lead to women who are victims of such crimes refraining from speaking out if they fear reprisals and see little-to-no justice being served.

“It is a matter of particular concern that asylum-seeker and refugee women who have allegedly been raped or sexually assaulted are left in unsafe conditions, given their own vulnerable status and the close proximity of their attackers, and tend to be stigmatized by the population and by members of the Nauru police force,” he concluded.

 

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