11 November 2015
As can be expected, Australia's conservative government has faced wide-spread condemnation from the international community whilst appearing before the Human Rights council in Geneva.
The Australian government was appearing for its four yearly review in the process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Whilst appearing before reviewers Australia faced 107 questions regarding human rights issues and over 60 recommendations criticising Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Litigation, Anna Brown said that Australia’s efforts to demonstrate leadership on topics such as the death penalty and the rights of older people were overshadowed by a wave of condemnation on policies of mandatory detention, offshore processing and boat turn backs.
“Australia’s potential to be a human rights leader is being completely undercut by its tremendously harsh treatment of people seeking asylum. Last night at the UN, there were calls from nations in every region and political grouping in the world, for Australia to change its policies. At a time when there is an unprecedented number of people around the world in need of safety, a wealthy democratic nation like Australia should be part of the solution, but instead we are rightfully being condemned on the world stage for being part of the problem,” Brown added.
Despite condemnation, the government continued to uphold a commitment to ‘strong’ policies on migration and asylum.
“The Government’s generally constructive and positive approach to its review last night was undermined by its one-eyed and shallow justification for its treatment of people seeking asylum. Fronting a forum like this and just repeating a tired mantra won’t fool anyone – it actually just damages our international credibility,” said Brown.
Australia was also challenged for its record on Indigenous peoples including a wide spread concern on over-imprisonment, gaps in health outcomes and community services.
Disability issues, women’s rights and LGBTI rights – particularly marriage equality, also featured heavily in the review.
Other issues raised were racial and religious discrimination (particularly Islamophobia), children’s rights, and the need for a federal Human Rights Act.
Australia’s Ambassador to the UN, John Quinn, who fronted the review, spoke of the important work of human rights defenders such as the Australian Human Rights Commission – the national institution which had its government funding slashed and who’s President, Professor Gillian Triggs, has come under intense pressure from senior Government ministers to resign.
“The growing gulf between what Australia says on the world stage and what it actually does back home is of real concern. If Australia is serious about wanting a spot on this very Human Rights Council, then it clearly needs to lift its game when it comes to both policy and practice,” said Brown.