Abuses at Australia’s offshore refugee detention centres are so serious that they should be subject to International Criminal Court (ICC) scrutiny, according to a coalition of legal experts. Private companies running services at centres on Nauru and Manus islands should be included in an investigation, the petition states.

The 100-page document, written by Stanford International Human Rights Clinic and the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), details ‘harrowing practices of the Australian state and corporations towards asylum seekers’. Accusations of ‘physical and sexual abuse of adults and children’ are listed, along with conditions that have led to ‘epidemic levels of self-harm’.

Under Australia’s ‘sovereign borders policy’, people attempting to reach Australia by sea are taken to processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, Micronesia. Latest government figures show a total of 861 people in Manus Island reception and processing centre and 380 people in Nauru. The government claims that the offshore policy has deterred other migrants from making the hazardous sea crossing to Australia from countries such as Indonesia.

Dr Ioannis Kalpouzos, lecturer at London’s City Law School and GLAN chair said: ‘We are witnessing the normalisation of crimes committed against the world’s most vulnerable population – refugees. The prosecutor must recognise the gravity of the situation and prevent this.’

GLAN legal adviser Dr Itamar Mann added: ‘The prosecutor is now presented with an opportunity to address widespread criticism painting the ICC as being biased in its almost exclusive focus on African states.’

The ICC’s office of the prosecutor is an independent organ of the court and is responsible for examining situations under the jurisdiction of the court where genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes appear to have been committed.

Australia is a state party to the Rome Statute, which governs the ICC, and therefore no additional UN authority is required should the prosecutor choose to act on the submission. However, there is no fixed timescale for the ICC to respond to a petition.