Human Rights and Australian Foreign Policy: Submission to Parliamentary Committee Review of DFAT

On 7 April 2011, the Human Rights Law Centre made a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s review of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2009 – 2010. Human rights should be both a key goal and instrument of Australian foreign policy.  As a goal, we should commit ourselves to promoting and protecting freedom, dignity, equality and justice for all as a key foreign policy priority.  As an instrument, we should promote human rights to secure the underlying conditions for other goals, such as security, development, economic participation and social inclusion.

The submission considers the Annual Report with regard to international human rights standards and Australia’s foreign policy obligations in this regard.

After first outlining the utility and importance of a human rights-based approach to foreign policy, the submission identifies specific areas in which Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s position in respect of human rights could be improved.  It also makes concrete recommendations for reform which will enhance DFAT’s capabilities to address human rights issues, namely by:

  1. developing an overarching, comprehensive human rights policy;
  2. developing and undertaking Human Rights Impact Assessments as a key aspect of doing business abroad, including particularly in the areas of aid, development, trade, investment, business, migration, defence, military cooperation, security and the environment;
  3. where appropriate, negotiating for bilateral and multilateral agreements to include human rights clauses and safeguards;
  4. ensuring that the promotion and protection of human rights are incorporated into the objectives and activities of all regional organisations and processes that impact on human rights and of which Australia is a part;
  5. establishing a high-level Human Rights Advisory Committee, comprising experts from NGOs, academia and human rights bodies, to provide external advice on human rights in foreign policy and on options for addressing human rights problems;
  6. utilising and promoting social media as a form of communication and diplomacy;
  7. appointing a human rights ambassador; and
  8. increasing the resourcing of the Human Rights & Indigenous Issues Section within DFAT to facilitate these recommendations.

For further information about the inquiry, click here.