Australian Government criticised on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex rights at UN

Australian Government criticised on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex rights at UN

Yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva took aim at the Australian Government’s treatment of sexual minorities.

The comments came in the same week Australia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said Australia should be concerned about its international legitimacy so soon after its appointment to the UN Human Rights Council.

"The UN rightly recognised Australia’s considerable progress for equality and removing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in recent years, but questions remain unanswered on Australia’s commitment to human rights for all when it comes to marriage equality, transgender people accessing birth certificates and protecting intersex people from harmful medical procedures," said Ms Brown.

Sterilisation of intersex children in Australia

Following concern from Australian NGOs about the human rights impact of forced medical interventions on young children justified by gender stereotypes, the Committee raised the recent Family Court decision of Re Carla which found that surgeries performed on a young child needn't be approved by the Court.

"This is the first time the UN Human Rights Committee has highlighted the human rights abuses intersex people face in Australia. We call on the Australian Government to urgently address medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children to safeguard their human rights into the future," said Ms Brown.

Non-compliance with international human rights recommendations

Australia has received two adverse decisions from the UN Human Rights Committee in the last six months and has not yet responded to recommendations to address these issues at home.

In one case, the UN Human Rights Committee found the Australian Government violated a married transgender woman’s right to privacy and family and her right to be free from discrimination in not allowing her to obtain a birth certificate consistent with her gender identity unless she divorced her spouse. In another case the Committee found that a law in NSW violated a married woman’s right to be free from discrimination by not providing a mechanism for same-sex couples who marry overseas to obtain a divorce in Australia.

UN Human Rights Council Vice Chair Yuval Shany said it was "unacceptable" for Australia to "pick and choose" which human rights to respect and to "routinely reject" the UN Human Rights Committee’s views. Australia’s lack of implementation of the Committee’s recommendations was "completely off the charts" and “incredible for a country that claims to have a leading role in global human rights".

Committee members asked what Australia’s plans were to implement the Committee’s views on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Now that Australia has a seat at the table, we have a responsibility to be a world leader when it comes to protecting people from discrimination and harm on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status," Ms Brown said.

Marriage equality postal plebiscite

Just one day after the Committee condemned the Australian Government’s "chronic non-compliance" with international human rights laws, Sarah Cleveland in the UN Human Rights Council session, singled out the marriage equality postal survey, stating, "Human rights are not to be determined by opinion poll or a popular vote."

"This survey is unnecessary and is proving divisive and harmful, but all Australians should have the same opportunities for love, commitment, and happiness and our parliamentarians should do their job and vote on a bill," said Ms Brown.

Access to medical treatment for transgender teenagers

Access to hormone treatment for transgender teenagers was also raised by the Committee.

The Australian Government recognised the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s strong intervention in the recent test case of Re Kelvin in September 2017 to limit the role of the Family Court to cases involving controversy.

"The Attorney-General’s support for preventing harm caused by unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to transgender teenagers accessing essential medical treatment is a good example of how the Australian Government can take a stand to protect the rights of LGBTI people," said Ms Brown.

The Human Rights Law Centre is with a coalition of Australian NGOs in Geneva to brief the UN Human Rights Committee.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519