Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 24, 2009

Amnesty reports to UN on Australia's human rights failures

Amnesty reports to UN on Australia’s human rights failures
MARCH 2009

Amnesty International has presented the United Nations with a detailed report (pdf size: 377kb) setting out its concerns about Australia’s failure to comply with some of the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The 28-page ICCPR document (pdf size: 377kb) was tabled as part of the formal reporting mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Committee, under which the Australian Government is required to submit a report on its compliance with Covenant obligations every five years.
Robyn Seth-Purdie, Government Relations Adviser for Amnesty International Australia, addressed Committee members on issues raised in the report at a Committee session in New York on 16 March.
Dr Seth-Purdie highlighted the areas in which Australia most needs to strengthen human rights protections, particularly in relation to the rights of Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers and individuals subject to investigation under Australian anti-terrorism legislation.
“Many of the gaps in Australia’s protection of human rights, identified by the UN Human Rights Committee in its last periodic review, still have not been addressed,” Dr Seth-Purdie said. “If the Rudd government is serious about meeting its international obligations it should take immediate action to withdraw law and policy that subject Indigenous Australians to racial discrimination.”
Amnesty International acknowledged the significance of the Prime Minister’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations, but pointed out that more needed to be done.
“Reinstating protections against racial discrimination under the Northern Territory Intervention is a crucial next step for the Australian Government to take to improve its human rights record,” Dr Seth-Purdie said.
The organisation’s report said that supporting the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and using its principles as a guide, would assist the Government to close the gap and ensure ICCPR rights are made fully available to Indigenous Australians.
The report is also critical of Australia’s practice of detaining asylum seekers and renews Amnesty International’s call for closure of the Christmas Island detention facility.
“The ongoing detention of asylum seekers, including families with children and unaccompanied minors, on Christmas Island is simply unacceptable,” Dr Seth-Purdie said.
In 2000 the UN Human Rights Committee found that the Australian legal system did not adequately protect human rights and prepared a list of issues for Australia to address.
Australian Government officials are appearing before the Committee in New York on 23-24 March to respond to its concerns and outline what steps have been taken to bring the country into compliance with Covenant obligations.
“Human rights provide the basic foundations for societies to flourish, particularly in times of hardship and crisis. To demonstrate its accountability to the international community, and to its own citizens, the Australian government must introduce a solid legal framework to protect the human rights recognised in treaties such as the ICCPR,” Dr Seth-Purdie said.
An opinion poll commissioned by Amnesty International and released on 12 March found that 81 per cent of people surveyed would support the introduction of a law to protect human rights in Australia. It also found that 85 per cent believed introduction of such a human rights law should be a high priority for the Government.
Read the full text of reports by Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations to the UN Human Rights Committee.

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