Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific: Major Report on Australia's Role in the Region

On 3 May 2010, the Australian Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee published a much anticipated report on Australia’s role in promoting and protecting human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, entitled Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific: Challenges and Opportunities. The Committee identified that the ‘Asia-Pacific is a diverse and complex region with a mosaic of human rights challenges’ and found that there is a ‘clear need to enhance mechanisms to protect human rights and to monitor and redress human rights violations’.  The Committee further found that, while Australia has a ‘significant role to play’ in promoting and protecting human rights in the region, Australia must also be ‘sensitive and cooperative in its approach and action on human rights matters’.

Consistent with evidence to the inquiry, the Committee stated that for Australia to propose possible models for an Asia-Pacific regional human rights mechanism would be ‘premature’ and that Australia should instead ‘take its lead from organisations already established in the region, seek to address issues in which Australia expertise or a shared interest, and infuse human rights standards and practices into relationships within the Asia-Pacific region’.

Consistent with these observations and findings, the Committee recommended, among other things, that:

  • the Australian Government should be ‘conscious of its human rights obligations in all of its regional relationships’, including in the areas of aid, trade and investment;
  • AusAID should ‘adopt a human rights-based approach to guide the planning and implementation of development projects’;
  • the Australian Government should continue and expand its bilateral human rights dialogues with states in the Asia-Pacific – including China and Vietnam – and seek to strengthen these dialogues through the inclusion of parliamentary delegates and by reporting their outcomes to parliament on an annual basis;
  • Australia should adopt a ‘targeted approach’ to ‘improve the level of ratification of core human rights treaties in the Asia-Pacific, and to assist countries in meeting their obligations once they are parties to these important treaties’, including through education and the provision of financial and technical support;
  • the Australian Government should support the ‘vital work’ being done by NGOs and civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region, including by establishing a scholarship fund to enable human rights defenders to attend human rights courses and programs in Australia; and
  • the Australian Government should appoint a Special Envoy for Asia-Pacific Regional Cooperation on Human Rights to engage in regional discussions and consultations on how Australia can best support human rights in the Asia-Pacific.  This Special Envoy should report to the Government within 12 months.

The Committee concluded that it was ‘mindful that Australia should not be prescriptive in what human rights approach or mechanism would best suit the region’, but reiterated that Australia is ‘well placed to foster an opportunity for discussion and progress on a cooperative approach to human rights challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region’.

The Committee’s report cited the HRLRC's submission to the inquiry, entitled Australia's Role in Promoting Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific, over 85 times and adopted many of the HRLRC's findings and recommendations.