The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ('CERD') has requested that the Australian Government take urgent action to ensure that the Northern Territory Intervention complies with Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In an Urgent Action Letter to Australia dated 13 March 2009, the Committee called upon the Australian Government to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and to build a new relationship with Aboriginal Australia. The Committee's urgent procedures mechanism is designed to respond to situations requiring immediate attention to prevent or limit serious violations of the Convention.
In a further letter dated 28 September 2009, the Committee notes the recent assessment of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples following his country visit to Australia in September that the Northern Territory Intervention remains incompatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations.
The Committee’s most recent letter also notes that Australia’s next periodic report under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is now more than 12 months overdue, and requests the Australian Government to submit its report before the Committee’s forthcoming session in February 2010.
CERD's action has been in response to a Request for Urgent Action made to the Committee in February 2009 on behalf of a group of 20 Indigenous Australians affected by the Northern Territory Intervention. The Request for Urgent Action argues that the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Australian Government's failure to consult adequately with affected Aboriginal communities violates arts 2, 5, 6 and 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
An Update to the Request for Urgent Action was sent to the Committee on 11 August 2009, which provided further information to the Committee about the inadequacy of consultations being undertaken by the Federal Government, the continued suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act and the threatened compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps.
The authors of the Request for Urgent Action are a group of 20 Alice Springs town camp and remote community residents. The authors are being assisted by a legal team including former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel QC and lawyer George Newhouse, with substantial assistance being provided by the Human Rights Law Resource Centre.
The group is extremely concerned about the continuing serious and pervasive effects that the Northern Territory Intervention measures are having on Indigenous communities and, in particular, their traditional way of life. The Urgent Action therefore requested that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination take urgent action by calling on the Australian Government to take immediate steps to reinstate the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act and to enter into significant and meaningful discussions with affected communities and individuals.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has described the Northern Territory Intervention measures as 'punitive and racist' and, following a comprehensive analysis of the Intervention, found that the 'racially based legislation' contravenes a number of international human rights conventions and the Racial Discrimination Act.
In addition to its discriminatory nature, the Northern Territory Intervention legislation was passed without any consultation with Aboriginal representatives or affected communities. This is particularly worrying as the Northern Territory Intervention measures were introduced and continue at a time when there is no representative body for Aboriginal people in Australia.