Human Rights and Foreign Policy: Australia Could Become a 'AAA' State

In the course of the recent periodic review of Australia by the UN Human Rights Committee, one of the independent experts called on Australia to grasp its opportunity – and fulfil its obligation – to become a ‘AAA’ human rights state. This paper, entitled 'Australia, Human Rights and Foreign Policy' (2009) 34(4) Alternative Law Journal 218, responds to three issues raised by that call:

  • First, why should Australia strive to be a ‘AAA human rights state’?
  • Second, does Australia have the necessary characteristics and satisfy the preconditions to become such a state?
  • Third, what are some of the steps and measures that Australia should take, including particularly at the international and regional levels, to pursue this path if, indeed, it is a path worth pursuing?

The paper argues for a human rights-based approach to foreign policy, contending that Australia’s international, regional and bilateral approach to human rights should be persistent and principled, fearless and forceful.

It contends that Australia should strategically position itself as an outstanding international citizen and human rights promoter, including by developing a consistent and comprehensive strategy on human rights and foreign policy. That policy should seek to mainstream and integrate human rights across all areas of Australian foreign policy, including aid, development, trade, investment, migration, environment, business and security. It should contain concrete measures and commitments to promote and protect human rights in the region and internationally. Such a policy could enhance Australia’s international credibility as a human rights leader and build significant diplomatic capital.