Counter-Terrorism: UN Special Rapporteur report on Australia

The Australian Government should urgently reconsider key aspects of its counter-terrorism laws to bring them into conformity with international human rights standards, a UN report on human rights and counter-terrorism in Australia which was tabled before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 26 March 2007 has found. The Centre has prepared a Summary of the Report.

The Report identifies a number of actual and potential human rights violations within Australia's counter-terrorism regime.  The report of a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, was based on information provided by the Australian government, academic community and non-governmental organisations.

Australia's multilayered response to the threat of terrorism includes changes to criminal law and enforcement, border security, and ASIO powers.

Key concerns of the Rapporteur are:

  • The overly broad definition of 'terrorist act', which carries serious consequences for rights and freedom of individuals. It fails to distinguish between ordinary criminal conduct, and terrorist conduct;
  • The lack of safeguards in relation to enhanced powers of search and seizure of Australian Federal Police;
  • ASIO powers of questioning and intelligence-gathering; and
  • New regimes for preventive detention and control orders.

These changes have serious implications for individuals' right to a fair trial, due process, and liberty and security of the person.  The Report also warns that measures aimed at preventing cross-border movements of terrorists undermine the international rights of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The Rapporteur was critical of the haste and lack of public consultation with which the legislation was passed in Australia: "Because of the potentially profound impact of counter-terrorism legislation on human rights and fundamental freedoms, it is particularly important that Governments seek to secure the broadest possible political and popular support for such legislation", says the Rapporteur.

The Rapporteur warns that it is 'essential' to establish means of dealing with any potential abuses of counter-terrorism laws, and urges Australia to enact federal legislation to protect rights and freedoms of individuals.