UN Human Rights Committee asks Australia to explain human rights record

The UN Human Rights Committee has asked Australia to explain how a range of laws, policies and practices are compatible with international human rights standards ahead of a major review of Australia’s human rights record. The Committee of independent experts is responsible for monitoring states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Australia was last reviewed in 2009 and has been asked by the Committee to respond to a “List of Issues” by December 2013.

“The issues raised by the Committee correspond with major areas of human rights concern identified by Australian non-government and community organisations,” said the HRLC’s Director of International Human Rights Advocacy, Ben Schokman.

“The expert treaty body has asked the government to explain, for example, how Australia can adequately protect human rights in the absence of a national Human Rights Act. It has also raised prima facie concerns with issues such as violence against women, the necessity and proportionality of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws, the human rights compatibility of the continuing Northern Territory intervention, and discrimination against a range of vulnerable groups,” said Mr Schokman.

The Committee asked particularly detailed questions about Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies:

  • "Please explain how the transferring of asylum seekers to third countries for the processing of their claims is consistent with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant, most significantly non-refoulement obligations."
  • "Please explain whether the State party plans to reform or abolish the system of mandatory detention without individualised determination of necessity in cases of illegal entry."

The Committee also expressed concern about the “disproportionately high rate of incarceration of Indigenous people” and the lack of access to “appropriate health care for people experiencing mental illness”.

According to Mr Schokman, “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 Committee has asked Australia to provide detailed responses to its questions by 20 December 2013.

A copy of the HRLC’s written submission to the Human Rights Committee is available here.

Together with other leading NGOs, the HRLC also provided an oral briefing to the Committee in November 2012.