Australia yet to prove its mettle as a global human rights leader as it takes a seat on UN Human Rights Council

Australia yet to prove its mettle as a global human rights leader as it takes a seat on UN Human Rights Council

This week Australia gained a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the world’s pre-eminent human rights body.

Emily Howie, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre said to make the most of the opportunities Council membership will present, Australia must lift its human rights game both at home and internationally.

“This is the most significant UN position Australia has sought since the Security Council. Relatively speaking Australia is likely to be a positive force for reform on the Council, but if it wants to have the credibility required to be a true human rights leader it can't continue to blatantly breach international law itself. There's no doubt that it's cruel treatment of refugees will hamstring Australia's efforts on Council," said Ms Howie.

“The world has witnessed how Australia’s offshore detention regime on Manus and Nauru has led to fear, violence, harm and deaths. In fact Australia has flouted the advice of several of the Council’s own experts that offshore detention violates international law. This is not the action of an upstanding Council member,” said Ms Howie.

The Human Rights Council addresses some of the gravest human rights abuses and crisis facing the world, including the situations in North Korea, Syria and Myanmar.

“Too often Australia turns a blind eye to serious human rights abuses in our region, particularly where Australia relies on those countries to prop up its punitive refugee policies. For example, Australia's efforts to coerce Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar is surely feeding Australia's craven failure to condemn the horrific ethnic cleansing unfolding in that country," said Ms Howie.

Australia’s domestic track record will also come under closer scrutiny during its term on the Council. Council members are expected to maintain the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights.

“Australia's failure to end Indigenous deaths in custody or protect children from harm in its youth justice systems, along with its stubborn refusal to accept any of the rulings from UN experts or the chorus of criticism from its peers at the UN about Australia's cruel treatment of people seeking asylum casts serious doubt whether it can maintain the highest standards expected from Council members," said Ms Howie.

The UN General Assembly voted on Monday 16 October 2017 in New York. Australia ran uncontested for a position on the Council. It ran, alongside Spain, for two seats available to the Western European and Others Group, after France withdrew from the race in July this year.

Ms Howie said the lack of competitive slates in the voting process is a real concern and warned that sliding standards risk undermining the credibility of the Human Rights Council.

"It’s encouraging to see Australia put its hand up and be willing to get involved in improving the UN processes to ensure that the Council can be as effective as possible," said Ms Howie.

Related: Australia to face human rights scrutiny in week of UN Human Rights Council vote

For interviews or more information, please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, HRLC: +61 (0) 419 100 519