Australia should use its new seat on the UN Security Council to promote and protect human rights

Australia should commit to using its seat on the UN Security Council to promote and protect human rights around the world, according to a leading human rights advocacy organisation. “Respect for human rights is essential to the Security Council’s mandate of promoting international peace and security,” said Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

Congratulating the Australian Government on its successful campaign, Mr Lynch said that, “Australia has a critical role to play in focusing the Council’s attention more sharply on global human rights issues and situations of concern.”

“The Government's UN Security Council pitch marketed Australia as a ‘principled advocate of human rights for all’ and as a country which ‘does what it says’. It’s time to walk the talk,” he said.

Australia could take a number of practical steps in this regard, including requesting regular briefings from international human rights experts – such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent experts – and requesting the inclusion of human rights analyses and impact assessments in all reports prepared for the Security Council.

“As a member of the Security Council, Australia should take a principled and persistent approach to human rights, underpinned by a comprehensive human rights policy,” said Mr Lynch.

“There are many areas in which Australia is well-placed to make a distinctive international contribution, such as in business and human rights, the empowerment of women and girls, and combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Australia should also commit to the principles of human rights universality and non-selectivity. As a regional leader, Australia should be at least as active in promoting human rights and accountability for violations in Sri Lanka and West Papua as in Libya and Syria,” said Mr Lynch.

According to Mr Lynch, with a seat on the Security Council, it is now imperative that Australia strengthen the human rights expertise and capacity of the foreign service, including by increasing the number of human rights officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and incorporating human rights modules in all DFAT training.

“The Government should also establish a UN Human Rights Advisory Group, comprising experts from NGOs, academia and human rights bodies, to provide external advice on issues on the Security Council agenda and options for addressing human rights problems,” said Mr Lynch.

UK Foreign Secretary Hague established just such a group in 2010 and recently said that its “expertise has proved invaluable in informing our human rights policies”. According to Mr Hague, it is critical for governments to "hear from experts at the forefront of reporting and documenting human rights abuses".