The United Nations’ peak human rights body will tonight be urged to question Australia on its increasingly regressive approach to human rights in the lead up to a major review.
The statement to be presented by the Human Rights Law Centre to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva will highlight concerns about Australia’s growing hostility to the UN as well as regression in key areas.
The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, said the statement aims to alert the nations of the Council of the widening gulf between Australia’s domestic actions and statements the Government makes to the international community.
“Australia has a good track record of engaging with important UN forums, but there’s concern that not only is Australia’s human rights record deteriorating, but that Australia is also becoming increasingly belligerent in the face of external criticism,” said Ms Brown.
The statement quotes Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying that “Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations” and his Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, dismissing a recent UN report criticising Australia’s asylum seeker policies as “absolute rubbish”.
“In Geneva Australia has been at the forefront of discussions about the importance of ensuring the independence of human rights institutions, yet at home the Government has significantly cut funding to the Australian Human Rights Commission, publicly attack the credibility of and sought the resignation of its President, Professor Triggs. Such actions are manifestly incompatible with resolutions Australia leads at the UN,” said Ms Brown.
The HRLC is part of a NGO Coalition preparing a joint NGO report for the Human Rights Council ahead of Australia’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review – a peer based review of a nation's overall human rights performance which takes place every four years.
“At Australia’s last review it was encouraging to see the Government engaging constructively with the UN, accepting criticism and committing to lifting its game in a number of areas. This time round, things might be different and that’s a real concern, because it’s in Australia’s interests that the UN system and international law is respected by all members,” said Ms Brown.
The statement also highlights key areas of concern, including increasingly punitive asylum seeker and refugee policies, the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the introduction of laws, policies and arrangements that threaten democratic freedoms.
“Since Australia’s last review, we’ve witnessed the erosion of basic democratic freedoms at both state and federal levels of government. When you add to this funding cuts and restrictions on the ability of independent organisations to speak out about human rights violations, then clearly you’re heading into pretty concerning territory,” said Ms Brown.
Australia is currently campaigning to become a member of the Human Rights Council in 2018 and Ms Brown said the Government needed to lift its game.
“If Australia develops a reputation for snubbing UN processes and letting human rights standards slide, then its chances of being elected are likely to be damaged,” said Ms Brown.
Australia’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council will take place in November. The Australian Government will need to lodge its report in July ahead of the review. For more information about the UPR visit: www.hrlc.org.au/upr
A copy of the statement can be found here.
For further comments or queries please contact:
Anna Brown, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Litigation: 0422 235 522 or Anna.Brown@hrlc.org.au