The Human Rights Law Centre is honoured to receive the Australian Human Rights Law Award for 2012. The Award, which is jointly conferred by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Law Council of Australia, is made annually to an organisation or individual with a proven track record in promoting and advancing human rights in Australia. The HRLC was conferred the prestigious award for its positive impact over the last seven years in promoting and protecting human rights through evidence-based advocacy, strategic litigation and education. The citation particularly recognised the HRLC’s success in “securing constitutional recognition of the right to vote, improving access to healthcare for prisoners, strengthening legislative protection of human rights, and holding Australia to account for its human rights obligations on the international stage”.
Accepting the Award, HRLC Executive Director Phil Lynch said, “This Award recognises the importance and impact of the HRLC’s work for individual justice, government accountability and systemic human rights reform. This impact is only possible thanks to the remarkable dedication and support of our many partners, including pro bono law firms and barristers, community legal centres, human rights advocacy organisations and our generous donors.”
Mr Lynch said that this support is evident in the HRLC’s current Human Rights Week Appeal, in which three leading national law firms have agreed to match fund, dollar for dollar, all private donations.
Mr Lynch said that while the last seven years has taught the HRLC that human rights reform is often frustratingly slow and incremental, “human rights defenders must seize opportunities for change”.
“The Government’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 will, if enacted, make equal opportunity laws more effective, accessible and efficient,” said Mr Lynch.
He nominated the success of a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution, and to enshrine the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of race, as a key opportunity to advance Indigenous rights in Australia.
Mr Lynch also said that recent developments, especially in the area of refugee and asylum seeker rights, demonstrate that “human rights defenders must be constantly vigilant to guard against regression”.
“It is a national shame that, over the last decade, a bipartisan policy of prolonged, mandatory and indefinite immigration detention has been endorsed by the High Court and that highly vulnerable people are now warehoused in tents in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.”
Mr Lynch also said that it should be a matter of concern to all Australians that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are incarcerated at over 15 times the rate of non-Indigenous adults, while Indigenous children are almost 24 times more likely to be in detention.
“The ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, an international treaty which requires independent monitoring and inspections of all places of detention, should be an urgent priority for national, state and territory governments,” he said.
The HRLC also congratulated the other outstanding shortlisted nominees for the Human Rights Law Award:
- Scott McDougall, the Director of Caxton Legal Centre in Brisbane for over ten years; and
- Sarah Westwood and Victorian Legal Aid for their outstanding advocacy on behalf of poor Indonesian boat crew, including children, charged with people smuggling offences which carry an odious mandatory prison term.
For further information or comments, please contact:
Phil Lynch, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre – 0438 776 433