United Nations spotlights racism in Australia

This Tuesday 10 August 2010 the Australian Government will attend a hearing at the United Nations in Geneva to explain some of its most controversial policies to an expert body on racism. The UN Committee on Racial Discrimination has asked Australia to provide it with information on how Australia is performing its legal obligations to respect, protect and promote the human right to equality and freedom from racial discrimination. “This hearing is one place where the Australian Government is held accountable for laws and policies that have a negative effect on people of particular races,” says Emily Howie, Director Advocacy and Strategic Litigation at the Human Rights Law Resource Centre. “The UN Committee has already indicated to Australia that it will give priority to discussing particular issues, including the Northern Territory Intervention, the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and the impact of counter-terror laws on Muslim communities”.

“The hearing highlights the inadequacy of Australia’s political and legal systems to properly protect the human rights of all people in Australia, particularly groups identified by their race or national or ethnic identity”, says Louise Edwards, Policy and Projects Officer, National Association of Community Legal Centres. “In a democracy, we like to think that the Government is held accountable for its policies every three years. Well that sort of accountability is of little comfort when you consider that both sides of politics have supported, and promise to continue, some of the most damaging and racist policies of recent times.”

A delegation of representatives from non-government organisations will attend the hearing, including Aboriginal elders from the Northern Territory whose communities are directly affected by the Intervention. Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, a member of the Uniting Church from Arnhem Land, and Rosalie Kunoth Monks, a former CLP candidate from Daly River (on the way to Wadeye), and former star in the film Jeddah, have flown to Geneva to tell the UN’s expert racism committee the stories of their communities. Their delegation is supported by a coalition of ‘concerned Australians’ with a broad-based community support.

“It should be a source of national shame that Aboriginal people need to fly to Geneva and petition the United Nations in order to seek justice and be free from racist laws at home. Aboriginal people should at least be reassured that their human rights are going to be supported by the international community,” says Les Malezer, Chairperson of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action.

After the hearing, the Committee will issue a report card on the state of racism in Australia and provide recommendations to the Australian Government for improving its laws and policies.

Graeme Innes, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, is in Geneva and will also attend the hearing.