Overnight the Australian Government delivered a major 'incoming members pledge' to the UN Human Rights Council, promising to approach its three year term on the Council "in a spirit of self-reflection with a view to improving our own human rights situation" and to "make progress in the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights", "including through implementation of [UN] recommendations and resolutions".
Daniel Webb, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre who is in Geneva for the Council session, welcomed the pledge but said that the Government’s words on the world stage urgently needed to be matched by action at home.
"It’s important to hear our government promise to strengthen the UN system and to start respecting human rights findings. The world will be a fairer and more humane place if we have a strong and effective international human rights system," said Mr Webb.
"But just saying over and over again that you respect human rights doesn’t make it true. Not for the innocent human beings warehoused on Manus and Nauru for the last five years. Or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children being forced into prisons away from their families and communities at obscenely high rates. All of the people suffering injustice right now in our community need action, not just words," said Mr Webb.
The Human Rights Law Centre has produced a summary of crucial UN human rights findings that the Australian Government must now comply with in order to deliver on its pledge. Mr Webb said the clear and repeated findings showed that the Turnbull Government needed to dramatically improve its own human rights performance, especially its treatment of refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
"On these issues, time and time again our government has knowingly betrayed the very human rights standards it is now pledging to uphold. That has got to stop — our government can’t just say one thing on the world stage and then do the opposite at home."
Mr Webb said he hoped Australia’s time on the Council would genuinely be the catalyst for greater respect for human rights domestically and that the Australian Government would play a principled role on the Council.
"Victims of cruelty and injustice all over the world desperately need governments like ours to be part of the UN’s principled spine, not a corrosive influence gnawing away at the very foundations of human rights with their own hollow words and unprincipled actions."
Australia was elected for a three-year term on the Council in October last year. This Council session runs until 23 March. The Human Rights Law Centre will attend every day of the Council session and provide regular updates on the Australian Government’s actions.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519