Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Refugee Studies


Oxford University Publishing


School of Arts and Humanities




Barnes, J. (2022). Suffering to Save Lives: Torture, Cruelty, and Moral Disengagement in Australia’s Offshore Detention Centres. Journal of Refugee Studies, article feac041.


Since Australia re-established offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru in 2012, there have been ongoing reports that asylum seekers and refugees are being subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT). People in detention have endured indefinite detention, inadequate provision of health care, and sexual, physical, and mental harm as the government attempts to ‘stop the boats’ and prevent deaths at sea. How can Australia continue to violate the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, while at the same time, promote its offshore detention policies worldwide? This article explores how Australia has engaged in moral disengagement from the pain and suffering of people in detention. Examining self-deception strategies such as denial of torture, denial of responsibility, and denial of wrongdoing, it shows not only how Australia privileged migration deterrence goals over human rights considerations, but utilized legal and humanitarian arguments to evade accountability and deny the existence of, and responsibility and wrongdoing for, torture and CIDT. This article explores the under-examined issue of moral disengagement to show how it is exacerbating the vulnerability of asylum seekers and refugees to torture and CIDT along their migration journeys.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.