UN set to question Australia about its commitment to human rights

The Australian Government’s failure to implement more than 20 recommendations from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee highlights the need to make the promotion and protection of human rights a national priority. Making a submission to the UN Human Rights Committee – which is preparing for a major review of Australia’s human rights record – the Human Rights Law Centre criticised the Australian Government for dragging its feet in a number of key areas of human rights concern.

The HRLC’s Executive Director, Phil Lynch, said the prolonged, indefinite detention of asylum seekers, the extension of the NT Intervention, and excessive use of force by police were prime examples of Australia failing to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), despite being identified as problem areas during the Committee’s 2009 review of Australia.

Mr Lynch also called on the government to take a more principled approach to human rights in the region, saying that Australia’s close cooperation with Indonesia and Sri Lanka to prevent people smuggling may be compromising our preparedness to speak out on human rights abuses in those countries.

“The promotion and protection of human rights should be at the core of Australian foreign policy,” Mr Lynch said. “Human rights concerns and safeguards should be paramount in any security, intelligence, and migration cooperation with Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.”

The HRLC was also highly critical of the Australian Government’s failure to respect and implement directives from key UN human rights bodies, saying it risked establishing Australia as a country that does not play by the rules.

“Australia’s refusal to accept and implement decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee and other treaty bodies undermines international human rights and the rule of law,” said Mr Lynch.

The Australia Government has complied with less than 10 percent of decisions in individual human rights cases issued by the UN’s independent, expert committees.

“The Government’s recent rebuff of the finding that Stefan Nystrom’s deportation violated fundamental human rights, along with last week’s deportation of a man to Sri Lanka despite an urgent request by the UN Committee against Torture, highlights a very concerning trend,” Mr Lynch said.

The submission also highlights other areas of human rights concern, including the need to reassess whether counter-terrorism laws and measures strike the right balance between freedom and security, the need to ensure that all places of detention are subject to monitoring and inspections, and the need to ensure that all police-related deaths are fully and independently investigated.

Mr Lynch said the enactment of a national Human Rights Act – in line with a key obligation under the ICCPR that the rights and freedoms protected in the treaty be enacted into law and enforceable in domestic courts – would help Australia to address many deficiencies in its human rights record.

“Australia is still the only modern western democracy not to have a Human Rights Act. Since the Committee’s last review in 2009, the Government has taken positive steps to create a new Human Rights Framework and establish a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, but it has so far failed to enact laws so that people can enforce their rights and actually hold governments to account,” Mr Lynch said.