Amnesty International has slammed Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in a report comparing John Howard to Robert Mugabe in his use of "fear politics".
Australia's refugee exchange deal with the US is a panicked response to failed policies of offshore processing, Amnesty International says.
Canberra and Washington have agreed to a deal under which asylum seekers detained on Nauru can be sent to the US once their claims are approved, while US-bound Haitian refugees detained in Guantanamo Bay can be resettled in Australia.
Amnesty's director Irene Khan says the agreement was a bid to save face because both governments realised their hardline stance on refugees was a sham.
"This is a desperate measure by two governments to cover up the fact that their offshore processing policy on refugees has basically failed," she told ABC radio.
"So what they're doing is sending people from Nauru to the US and people from Cuba – the Haitians from Cuba – to Australia so that they do not have to face the shame of having to release these people into their own countries.
"It's a cover-up, it's not a solution and it creates … huge impact on the individuals themselves."
The Howard government had an "appalling" domestic human rights record over its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people which had undermined its good work overseas, she said.
Ms Khan said she was pleased confessed terrorism supporter David Hicks was back in Australia, but he never received a fair trial in Guantanamo Bay.
"The Military Commissions Act does not provide for fair trial because it allows evidence obtained under torture, it does not provide for proper legal representation, there is no separation from the administration," she said.
"He had an unfair trial, in our view, and he had to wait five years for it."
Hicks was only returned because his case was becoming an embarrassment for the Australian government, she said.
Ms Khan urged Australian voters to think about giving others a "fair go" at this year's election.
In the forward to Amnesty International's annual report published yesterday, Ms Khan said the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership".
Ms Khan included Mr Howard with Mr Mugabe, US President George W
Bush and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir in the same scathing paragraph.
"The Howard government portrayed desperate asylum-seekers in leaky boats as a threat to Australia's national security and raised a false alarm of a refugee invasion," Ms Khan wrote.