ICCPR: UN Human Rights Committee releases Concluding Observations on Australia

The UN Human Rights Committee has released its Concluding Observations following a review of Australia's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The Committee's recommendations on Australia are the first since 2000 and an important test for the Rudd Government in light of its Security Council bid and its stated commitment to 'human rights leadership'. The Committee comments on a number of positive human rights developments in Australia, including the National Human Rights Consultation and the Apology to the Stolen Generations.  However, the Committee also raises a number of serious concerns and makes concrete recommendations for reform.

The Committee's recommendations consider:

  • the lack of legal protection of human rights at the national level - the Committee recommends the enactment of comprehensive human rights and equality legislation, such as a Human Rights Act;
  • the incompatibility of aspects of Australian counter-terrorism law, policy and practice with fundamental human rights - the Committee recommends amendment of the Criminal Code, the Anti-Terrorism Act and ASIO legislation;
  • the continued suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in relation to the Northern Territory Intervention - the Committee calls for re-design of the Intervention in direct consultation with Indigenous peoples and conformity with international human rights obligations;
  • the need to establish an adequately resourced national Indigenous representative body;
  • the need to make adequate reparations to the Stolen Generations - the Committee urges Australia to establish a national compensation scheme;
  • the need to take further steps to address ongoing issues of violence against women and homelessness;
  • the need to take 'urgent and adequate measures, including legislative measures, to ensure that nobody is returned to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe that they are at risk of being arbitrarily deprived of their life or being tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment';
  • the co-operation of Australian law enforcement officials with overseas agencies, which may expose Australians to the real risk of the death penalty - the Committee urges Australia to enact legislation to ensure that no person is extradited to a country where they may face the death penalty and also to ensure that Australian law enforcement officers do not provide assistance in the investigation of crimes (such as the Bali 9) which may expose people to the death penalty;
  • the excessive use of force by police without adequate oversight, including the use of Taser guns and lethal force;
  • the continued policy of mandatory immigration detention and the use of Christmas Island as a remote detention facility - the Committee urges Australia to abolish mandatory immigration detention, close Christmas Island and enact new migration legislation which respects fundamental rights;
  • the need to increase access to justice and legal aid, particularly for Indigenous Australians; and
  • the importance of establishing a comprehensive national human rights education program.

Download the Committee's recommendations here.

The Australian Government is yet to announce its response to the recommendations.

Sir Nigel Rodley, Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Committee, addresses a press conference following the review of Australia in New York in May 2009