NGO Report to UN Committee Against Torture 2014

In a detailed joint report, a coalition of non-government organisations has assessed Australia’s track record against the UN’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Australia signed up to in 1985. The report – endorsed by organisations such as People with Disability Australia, Save the Children and the Refugee Council of Australia – finds that overall, Australia’s standards are declining.

The report was prepared by the Human Rights Law Centre for the UN’s Committee Against Torture ahead of its review of Australia’s compliance with the Convention schedule to take place in November. The Committee, made up of independent international experts, will consider Australia’s track record and make a series of findings and recommendations.

A media release about the report can be found here.

Indonesia’s presidential elections, human rights and Australian foreign policy

Sydney and Melbourne: Join us for panel discussions regarding the Indonesian Presidential Elections featuring our special international guest, Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s Representative for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

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HRLC Submission on proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act

Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis released details on proposed changes to the racial vilification laws in March 2014 and announced a limited public consultation process on the changes. Submissions closed on 30 April 2014.

The changes outlined in the AG’s Exposure Draft would almost effectively abolish the current Federal legal protections against racial vilification and would send an appalling signal about the Government's views on racial tolerance.

The HRLC does not support the proposed changes. Our submission can be found here.

Racial vilification can cause serious harm to individuals and society. Racial vilification and hate speech increases the risk of racially motivated violence and needs to be actively combatted.

International human rights law specifically recognises the need to prohibit by law any advocacy of racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

Although opposing the proposed changes, the HRLC’s submission outlines how the worst aspects of the Exposure Draft could be mitigated, namely by giving the words “intimidate” and “vilify” their ordinary meaning; reinserting “reasonableness”, “good faith” and “public interest” requirements in the exemption; ensuring the community standards test requires some consideration of the impact on the relevant racial group affected by the conduct; and retaining sections 18B and 18E.

A media release about the HRLC’s submission can be found here.

Submission: Refugee security assessments must be fair, transparent and accountable

The rights of refugees shouldn’t be contingent on secretive, non-reviewable ASIO assessments, the HRLC has said in a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee which is conducting an inquiry into proposed amendments to the Migration Act which would make eligibility for a protection visa dependent on not being assessed as a security risk by ASIO.

HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that the proposed reforms entrench ASIO assessments at the centre of refugee processing but contain no safeguards to make sure the security assessment process is fair. Refugees have no right to appeal ASIO’s decision or to an explanation of the reasons behind it.

“It is vital that profoundly important decisions affecting the lives and liberty of vulnerable people be made through a process that is fair, transparent and accountable. The ASIO security assessment process is anything but” said Mr Webb.

The HRLC’s submission made the following recommendations:

  • Applicants for protection visas should be afforded the same legal right as citizens and permanent residents to seek merits review of ASIO security assessments in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
  • There should be legislative provision for regular (i.e. at least 6 monthly) consideration of whether the deemed security threat posed by a person can be addressed in manner less harmful and restrictive than detention.
  • The national security grounds on which a protection visa may be refused should be confined to the exclusion grounds under the Refugee Convention.

A copy of the HRLC’s submission can be found here.

A media release on the topic can be found here.