By the end of the week a vote in the UN General Assembly will decide whether Australia's $25 million campaign for a seat on the Security Council has been successful.
However, Professor Ben Saul claims Australia is not only breaking international law by keeping genuine refugees locked up indefinitely, but it is flouting a guarantee made to the UN to keep them safe.
That is because one of those refugees, a brain-damaged torture survivor, was allegedly assaulted by guards inside Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre.
At age 20, Premakumar, a Tamil, was beaten into a coma by Sri Lanka soldiers.
The attack left him brain-damaged and psychotic as a result, which Australia accepts.
Dr Neil Phillips, a community psychiatrist with 41 years' experience, knows Premakumar's history and describes his treatment as the worst he has ever seen.
"After he came back from the torture camp and was brought home by his family when he regained consciousness, he was in a terrible state," Dr Phillips said.
"It's just [an] awful sight to see someone after torture like that."
Now 29, Premakumar has been locked up since his arrival in Australia in 2009, despite being given refugee status.
A genetic eye condition has left him nearly blind.
ABC's Lateline program secretly filmed an interview with him two months ago in which he pleaded for his freedom.
"It's traumatic being locked up," he said.
"It's mental torture for me."
Premakumar is among 38 Tamil refugees whose indefinite incarceration has been challenged by Professor Saul.
He lodged a formal complaint with the UN's Human Rights Committee in August 2011, arguing Australia is breaking international laws by detaining them indefinitely because of adverse ASIO security assessments.
"I don't think any Australian can have confidence that these people are risks to security as long as the cases remain secret and no evidence has been presented to any tribunal or court to demonstrate that they are a security risk," he said.
"Because a fair hearing in this kind of security process is not just about protecting the human rights of the person, it's also about making sure that the security decision is right, that the intelligence is not marred by error or grudges or torture or other forms of unreliability which sometimes leads security agencies to get it wrong."
As their long detention is inflicting serious mental illness, Professor Saul argues it amounts to inhumane treatment, also illegal under international law.
So desperate are the refugees that several have already attempted suicide.
"One of our clients tried to electrocute himself, another tried to kill himself by drinking bleach," he said.
"Another one cut himself and yet another tried to overdose on drugs."
Despite their serious mental health issues, the Government has apparently stonewalled the UN case.
In February it missed the UN's six-month deadline to provide a submission to the Human Rights Committee and then missed an extension to July.
Australia then told the UN it must wait until the end of this year - 16 months after the original complaint was lodged and after the committee meets to consider the case in November.
"Australia has refused to comply with the procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Committee," Professor Saul said.
"I think this shows a real disrespect and it's hard to say why other countries would want to vote for us if we're not going to respect the United Nations itself."
Despite the Government's assurances to the UN that it would maintain the physical and mental well-being of the refugees, Lateline has been told that the Government has failed to protect Premakumar from physical harm too.
Late one night in March he was taken by ambulance from Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre to Liverpool Hospital's emergency.
"I saw him a few hours before. He was - I was actually talking to his brother mainly about some of his brother's medical problems which I was trying to help with," Dr Phillips said.
"And he was playing with a telephone and dialling the reception again and again and again and making funny noises over the phone.
"Later he also said to me that he'd wanted to sleep in a tree that night."
Reportedly that evening Premakumar was finally coaxed down from the roof of a shipping container. According to another detainee, that was when a group of security guards began to assault him.
"About seven SERCO officers were manhandling him. One had him by the neck," the detainee said.
"Another pushed him onto the concrete floor and they punched him. Then they took him into an empty cottage where they kept punching him."
Dr Phillips said Premakumar was left physically distressed by the incident.
"What I heard was that he was crying, he was vomiting, he was wetting his pants during and after the beating and he was in a terrible state," Dr Phillips said.
"In my view, whatever sort of beating he got and for whatever reason he got it, it's done him an enormous amount of harm."
Premakumar remained in Liverpool Hospital some days before he was returned to Villawood. Dr Phillips describes his incarceration as torture.
"His illness is steadily being made worse by a government policy that to me makes no sense whatsoever," he said.
"And whatever treatment he's getting doesn't work because every day they're making him worse.
"I see it as the equivalent of - in a physical sense of burning someone with a red-hot poker in the morning and then applying nice, clean dressings for the rest of the day and then the next morning you burn them again.
"That's, to me, the equivalent thing that's going on and I think it's absolutely frightful and in 41 years it's the worst thing like that that I've ever seen."
Six months ago, Premakumar's legal advocates requested an investigation into his alleged bashing.
They say their request was denied, but the Immigration Department told Lateline: "Claims that a client was assaulted and suffered serious injuries in March this year are completely untrue."
"One client was taken to hospital for medical treatment on the night in question, but the department is unable to disclose further details on privacy grounds."
The UN is still awaiting a response from Australia.
"Australia's trying to demonstrate to the world that it's a good international citizen as it seeks a seat on the United Nations Security Council and at the same time it's tearing down the UN human rights system which Australia helped to build after the Second World War," Professor Saul said.
The Government says it is finalising its submissions in response to the complaints.
Last night the Government said a retired judge would review ASIO's security assessments, but ASIO will still have the right to disregard the judge's recommendations.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Federal Government should enshrine its new review process for adverse ASIO security determinations in legislation.
"If we believe these things are necessary if we want to enshrine justice, fairness and the basic fair go to some of the most vulnerable people then it's got to be in law," she said.