Serious concerns raised over Australia’s human rights record at UN in lead up to next year's review

Serious violations are a blight on Australia’s human rights record, according to a joint NGO statement delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, said Australia was failing to live up to a number of the promises it made three years ago when its human rights record came under scrutiny during its regular review by its peers at the UN – a process known as the Universal Periodic Review.

“In 2011 Australia made a number of welcome human rights commitments to the international community and there was a number of positive steps taken but three years later it seems progress has stalled and we’ve witnessed regression in key areas,” Ms Brown said.

In January 2011 NGOs welcomed Australia’s acceptance of a large number of UPR recommendations and its commitment to translate them into practical action. Since 2011, NGOs have welcomed actions such as the establishment of a new Children’s Commissioner and National Disability Insurance Scheme and new federal discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, but progress seems to have stalled on the implementation of the remaining recommendations.

NGOs are disappointed at the lack of progress on a large number of recommendations and the backwards steps in key areas such as asylum seeker policy.

“Australia’s approach to asylum seekers coming by boat has become increasingly harsh and punitive,” said Ms Brown.

The mandatory and indefinite detention of all boat arrivals on Nauru or Manus Island as well as the conditions in these locations were raised as matters of significant concern, as was the practice of intercepting boats on the high seas and returning asylum seekers without adequate assessment of their claims.

NGOs are also concerned about threats to the funding and effective operation of the Australian Human Rights Commission and cuts to services for vulnerable groups.

“Despite Australia’s continuing failures in relation to its Indigenous peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal and justice services have been stripped of critical funding, and despite disability discrimination complaints making up the largest proportion of complaints we’ve seen the effective discontinuation of a standalone Disability Discrimination Commissioner. It seems services are being cut where they are needed most,” said Ms Brown.

The statement also raised concerns about proposed legislation that would seriously weaken Australia’s legal protection against racial vilification and hate speech.

NGOs urged Australia to address their concerns before Australia’s next review by the Human Rights Council in 2015.

For further information on Australia’s UPR and the NGO Coalition, please click here.

For a complete copy of the statement delivered on behalf of the Human Rights Law Centre, the National Association of Community Legal Centres Inc and Edmund Rice International, please click here.