Protection of human rights should guide Australia’s foreign policy: HRLC White Paper submission

Protection of human rights should guide Australia’s foreign policy: HRLC White Paper submission

Australia should raise the bar on its foreign policy and aim to be a principled and consistent leader in human rights and a staunch defender of international law, the Human Rights Law Centre said today.

In a submission filed with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consultation on a new Foreign Policy White Paper, the Human Rights Law Centre emphasised the importance of DFAT developing a comprehensive strategy for how it will promote human rights in its work. The white paper will be the first since 2003 and represents an important opportunity for Australia to reshape its foreign policy agenda.

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said Australia’s foreign policy should reflect that it is in Australia’s national interest for all countries to follow international law and respect human rights.

“It’s clear that Australia benefits from the peace, security and prosperity that are delivered by international law, including human rights law. Human rights are part and parcel of our national interest. But Australia hasn’t yet ensured that the protection of human rights guides its foreign policy work,” said Ms Howie

The HRLC submission calls on the Australian Government to consistently speak out on abuses in neighbouring countries and to lead by example and comply with international law, including by closing the offshore detention centres.

“Australia has a somewhat patchy record in protecting and promoting human rights, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, Australia has increasingly turned a blind eye to abuses in the region in order to curry favour with neighbouring states for trade and border protection purposes. Australia’s cruel offshore detention regime also flouts international law and is a stain on our leadership credentials” said Ms Howie.

The public consultation comes as Australia ramps up its campaign for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council, with a vote scheduled for October this year.

Ms Howie said that now more than ever, Australia needs to step up to the plate, as the United States has signalled it may withdraw from treaties, including human rights treaties. She said that Australia’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council is an important opportunity to showcase Australia’s leadership abilities.

“The Human Rights Council bid is the biggest attempt for a UN position since the Security Council. During its tenure on the Security Council, Australia showed that is capable of being a strong leader in human rights. Our recent equivocation on, and participation in, human rights abuses has diminished our credibility. Australia needs to seize the opportunity to demonstrate how it can play a truly constructive role in support of rights,” said Ms Howie.  

The submission calls for Australia to get its house in order and notes how the serious human rights violations caused by Australia’s cruel treatment of people seeking asylum risks undermining the credibility of its foreign policy and international advocacy. It also calls for Australia to better regulate the the human rights impact of Australian businesses overseas and to improve its engagement with the UN human rights system.

The HRLC’s White Paper Submission is available here.

For further comments or queries please contact:
Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, 0421 370 997

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