Harsh Criticism Of Our Human Rights Record

18:51' 23-11-2017
The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has harshly criticised one of its newest members, Australia, for failures in the treatment of refugees, Indigenous rights and other human rights.

    Photo: theconversation.com

    The UNHRC is the treaty body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Made up of 18 independent human rights experts, its functions are to monitor and review compliance with the treaty, and decide complaints.

    The committee's report, released early this month, noted Australia’s record had improved in some areas, like the introduction of protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status and the establishment of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

    At the same time, the committee expressed concern about high imprisonment rates of Indigenous Australians, roughly one in four of Australia's prison population. It also noted the impact of violence against women, particularly among Indigenous women and women with a disability.

    The committee criticised the recent same-sex marriage postal survey, saying that the use of such polls to uphold rights was not an acceptable decision-making method.

    Australia’s refugee policy was also criticised, for breaching Australia’s human rights obligations. The committee raised concerns about the forcible return of refugees to their home countries, mandatory detention, Operation Sovereign Borders and offshore detention.

    On this last point, the committee urged Australia to end offshore processing and bring the men at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre to Australia, or another safe country. The Manus Island centre was closed at the end of October, but about 600 men refused to leave the centre, claiming they were afraid of how the local community would treat them.

    Speaking with Fran Kelly on the ABC a week after the closure, Prime Minister Turnbull dismissed their fears. He blamed “activists in Australia”, including the Greens and the ABC itself, for “basically encouraging these people not to move”. New Zealand has offered to take 150 refugees, but Mr Turnbull says people smugglers would see that as “a back door to Australia”.

    Last Thursday, shortly after twelve former Australians of the Year sent an open letter asking to allow doctors access to the facility, police stormed the centre to remove the 380 asylum-seekers who still remained.

    The UNHRC recommends that Australia introduce a comprehensive national human rights act. Australia must explain how it will carry out the recommendations within 12 months.

    “The Government must show leadership in human rights through the development of policies that reflects a commitment to fairness, equality and the rule of law,” said Law Council of Australia President, Fiona McLeod SC, after the report was released.

    “Council members must demonstrate their willingness to improve their domestic human rights situation”, Maria Nawaz and Anna Cody of Kingsford Legal Centre wrote in The Conversation. “To claim legitimacy in human rights on the world stage, Australia needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights at home.”

    Span Hanna


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Keywords: human rightsrefugeesunited nations human rights committee

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