A coalition of 190 Non Government Organisations (NGOs) have warned the United Nations that Australia’s human rights performance is “steadily deteriorating” and handed a range of recommendations to the international body, including that the Australian Human Rights Commission have its powers increased and independence strengthened.
In a submission to the UN’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) the organisations highlighted a range of areas where Australia was failing to make progress or regressing, including asylum seeker rights, government consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, police related deaths, poverty and homelessness.
Anna Brown, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, helped coordinate the submission, and told New Matilda Australia had experienced “a really unfortunate slide in a number of key areas” since 2011.
“We’ve seen increasingly punitive and harsh refugee policies that we would say breach international law and a sliding in protections for democratic freedoms, including the proliferation of anti-protest laws,” Brown said.
She also pointed to the series of security and surveillance laws passed in recent months by the Coalition government with the support of Labor as a concern.
In responding to these challenges the submission recommends Australia urgently restore funding and independence to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
“Since the last UPR there have been unprecedented government-led attacks on the AHRC’s independence and functioning,” it said.
“These include a very substantial reduction in funding; the appointment of a Commissioner without a transparent process; the reduction of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Age Discrimination Commissioner from full-time to part-time roles; and persistent attacks on the President of the AHRC and attempts to procure her resignation.”
Brown said the Australian government had been acting inconsistently by promoting itself as a leader in human rights at the UN but taking backward steps at home.
In September last year, Australia co-sponsored a UN Human Rights Council resolution “reaffirming the importance of establishing and strengthening independent, pluralistic national human rights institutions”.
Since then, senior members of the Coalition have led regular public attacks on Australia’s own Human Rights Commission, targeting President Gillian Triggs in the lead-up to and fallout following the release of the Forgotten Children report.
Attorney-General Department Secretary Chris Moraitis allegedly encouraged Triggs to resign in February, offering her alternative government work if she would step down.
Despite the fact Australia is currently trying to join the UN’s Human Rights Council, the attacks on Triggs have continued in recent days.
“This is why I think this review is very timely. There needs to be more done to make sure Australia is held accountable for the statements it makes,” Brown said.
The UN’s Universal Periodic Review is a relatively new mechanism used to monitor human rights around the world. The review occurs once every four years and was first run in 2011.
According to the submission made by the 190 NGOs, Australia has failed to act on the majority of the recommendations made by the UN during that review.
“Of the 145 recommendations made to Australia as part of the last UPR, only 11 per cent of those accepted (in whole or in part) have been fully implemented and 19.7 per cent have been partially implemented,” the submission said.
Brown pointed to some signs of progress since then, including the introduction of a National Children’s Commissioner, the inclusion of protections for LGBTI people in the Sex Discrimination Act, and the introduction of a National Human Rights Action Plan.
However, the Abbott government has batted away criticism levelled by the UN, with the Prime Minister telling media Australians were “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations” after a report by special rapporteur Juan Mendez found some of Australia’s anti-asylum seeker policies breached the international convention against torture.
The government is currently finalising its own submission to the Periodic Review which is due in July, the office of Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed.
“The Government welcomes a vigorous, diverse and balanced human rights debate in Australia and will continue to consult with NGOs and community groups throughout the UPR process,” a spokesperson said.
Who Signed Up
The submission is endorsed, either in part or in whole, by organisations including:
|2020 Women||Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) Inc||Public Interest Law Clearing House (VIC) Inc|
|Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement||Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia||Queenscliff Rural Australians for Refugees|
|ActionAid Australia||Fitted for Work||Queensland Advocacy Incorporated|
|Advocacy for Inclusion||Footscray Community Legal Centre Inc||Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services|
|Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group Australia||Gay & Lesbian Health Alliance SA||Redfern Legal Centre|
|Aleph Melbourne||Geraldton Resource Centre||Refugee Advice and Casework Service|
|All Together Now||GetUp!||Refugee Council of Australia|
|Amnesty International Australia (National Women’s Rights Team)||Gippsland Community Legal Service||Remedy Australia|
|Anti-Slavery Australia||Girl Guides Australia||Safe Asylum|
|Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors||Homebirth Australia||Save the Children Australia|
|Asylum Seekers Centre Inc.||Home Ground||Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association|
|Australasian Council of Women and Policing||Human Rights Law Centre||Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care|
|Australian Baha’i Community – Office of Equality||Humanitarian Research Partners||Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia|
|Australian Capital Territory Disability Aged and Carer Advocacy Service||Illawarra Legal Centre||Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre Inc.|
|Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking||Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association NSW||Sisters Inside|
|Australian Centre for Leadership for Women||International Commission of Jurists Victoria||Soroptimist International|
|Australian Council for International Development Gender Equity Working Group||International Social Service (ISS) Australia||Soroptimist International Moreton North Inc.|
|Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations||International Women’s Development Agency||South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS)|
|Australian Federation of Graduate Women||JERA International||Sydney Multicultural Community Services|
|Australian Federation of Medical Women||Jessie Street National Women’s Library Justice Connect||Tasmania Opportunity|
|Australian Lawyers for Human Rights||Justice Connect Homeless Law||Taylor Street Community Legal Service|
|Australian Marriage Equality||Kingsford Legal Centre||Tenants’ Union of NSW|
|Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement||Lentara Uniting Care||The Addison Road Community Centre for Art, Culture, Community and Environment|
|Australian National Committee for UN Women||Marist Asylum-Seekers Refugee Service||The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (ACLW)|
|Australian Reproductive Health Alliance||Marrickville Legal Centre||The Bridge of Hope Foundation Inc|
|Australian Tamil Congress||Maternity Choices Australia||The Ethnic Community Services Co-Operative Ltd|
|Australian Women Against Violence Alliance||Melbourne Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office||The House of Welcome|
|Australian Women’s Health Network||Mental Health Australia||Tenants Union of Victoria|
|Australian Womensport and Recreation Association||Mercy Works||Touching Base Inc|
|Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR)||Migrant Women’s Lobby Group of South Australia||Townsville Community Legal Centre|
|Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) Queensland||Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre||Transgender Victoria Inc|
|Baptistcare Inc||Multicultural Women’s Advocacy ACT||UNICEF Australia|
|Basic Rights Queensland Inc||Murri Ministry Aboriginal Catholic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Queensland||Union of Australian Women|
|Bisexual Alliance Victoria Inc||National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS)||United Nations Association of Australian Status of Women Network|
|Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project||National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC)||Uniting Justice Australia|
|Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust||National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence||Victorian Council of Social Service|
|Castan Centre||National Children’s and Youth Law Centre||Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby|
|Central Coast Community Legal Centre||National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples||Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition|
|Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University||National Council of Churches of Australia Gender Commission||VIEWS Club of Australia|
|Centre for Multicultural Youth||National Council of Jewish Women of Australia||Western New South Wales Community Legal Centre Inc|
|Cerebral Palsy Alliance||National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children||Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre Inc.|
|Child Rights Task Force||National Council of Women of Australia||Women in Adult and Vocational Education|
|Children by Choice||National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services||Women in Engineering Australia|
|Children with Disability Australia||National Foundation for Australian Women||Women on Boards|
|ChilOut||National LGBTI Health Alliance||Women with Disabilities Australia|
|Civil Liberties Australia||National Liaison Committee for International Students in Australia – Women’s Department||Women with Disabilities Victoria|
|Coffs Harbour Aboriginal Family Community Care Centre Inc||National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum||Women’s Electoral Lobby|
|Combined Refugee Action Group||National Rural Women’s Coalition||Women’s Environment Network Australia|
|Communication Rights Australia||National Union of Students (Women’s Department)||Women’s Equity Think Tank|
|Community Information & Support Victoria (CISVic)||National Welfare Rights Network||Women’s Housing Ltd|
|Community Legal Centres New South Wales||New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties||Women’s Information Referral Exchange (WIRE)|
|Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes New South Wales||New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby||Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Australia|
|COTA Australia||Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre||Women’s Legal Centre (ACT & Region)|
|Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS)||Northern Territory Council of Social Service||Women’s Legal Services Australia|
|Council to Homeless Persons||Older Women’s Network Australia Inc||Women’s Legal Services New South Wales|
|CREATE Foundation||Older Women’s Network New South Wales Inc||Women’s Property Initiatives|
|Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN)||Organisation Intersex International Australia||Working Against Sexual Harassment|
|Doctors for Refugees||Oxfam Australia||Wyndham Legal Services Inc.|
|Eastern Community Legal Centre||Pax Christi Australia||Yfoundations|
|economic Security4Women||Peninsula Community Legal Centre||Youthlaw|
|Edmund Rice Centre Sydney||People with Disability Australia||YWCA Australia|
|Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre||People with Disabilities WA Inc||Zonta International Districts|
|Enlighten Education||Project Respect|
|FECCA Women’s Committee||Public Health Association of Australia (Women’s Special Interest Group)|