As the Australian Government campaigns for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are being torn apart by punitive laws and a lack of investment in community-based prevention programs, the UN heard today.
In a joint statement to the Council, Change the Record and the Human Rights Law Centre called on the world’s peak human rights body to hold Australia to past promises to promote the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and reduce imprisonment rates.
Women’s imprisonment rates across Australia have soared in recent years and authorities are locking up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women at 21 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. This is despite assurances the Australian Government made to the Human Rights Council in 2015 that it was adequately addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-imprisonment.
Antoinette Braybrook, Co-Chair of the Change the Record Coalition said, “Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are mothers and most are survivors of violence. Trauma and harm resulting from family violence contributes to women’s offending. Locking women up in prison causes devastating and long term upheaval – broken families, children moved into child protection, housing lost, and future employment denied.”
Change the Record has called for the development of a national action plan and for the Government to incorporate specific justice targets into the Closing the Gap framework, in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“If we are to see a reduction in women’s offending rates, governments across Australia must work with and invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that work with our women to stop violence and support families,” said Ms Braybrook.
Adrianne Walters, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “Two UN experts on Indigenous rights and violence against women visited Australia this year. Both raised concern about punitive laws and disadvantage which contribute to the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.”
“Australian governments must act now to remove unfair laws that disproportionately criminalise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women – women like Ms Dhu, a young Aboriginal woman, who was locked up because she couldn’t pay fines and who was treated inhumanely by police before dying in their care,” said Ms Walters.
The Australian Government’s human rights record was reviewed at the Human Rights Council in 2011 and in 2015. Both times it was criticised about the discrimination and disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the Government agreed to a number of recommendations.
“The Government has already made promises to the Human Rights Council, it’s now time to start delivering on them,” added Ms Walters.
Video of the statement can be found here.
For further information contact:
Shannon Longhurst, Change the Record: 0409 711 061
Michelle Bennett, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519