Australia’s Human Rights Scorecard ‘Concerning’
10 November 2015 at 11:21 am
Australia's asylum seeker policies and the treatment of people with disability have been heavily criticised in a review by the United Nation’s human rights body in Geneva .
“The very strong message was that the international community is extremely concerned about Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in particular,” according to the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).
“There were a spread of recommendations for improvement made by other countries to Australia across a range of key areas,” NACLC’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, Amanda Alford, said.
NACLC said more than 100 countries spoke during the review session of the Human Rights Council, with many calling on Australia to abide by international law.
Concern was raised over Australia’s offshore processing policies by representatives from Turkey, Sweden and Norway. Similar criticisms came from the US, Switzerland, Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Fiji.
The UN process, also referred to as Australia’s human rights scorecard, involves a four-yearly review of the human rights record of each UN Member State and provides other countries with an opportunity to make recommendations for improvement.
NACLC, along with the Human Rights Law Centre, has been coordinating engagement in the process by a coalition of almost 200 non-government organisations.
“Given the work of NACLC and Community Legal Centres as legal services, we were also pleased to see a number of recommendations relating to access to justice,” Alford said.
“For example, countries recommended the abolition of mandatory sentencing, measures to address over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and ensuring adequate funding of initiative designed to address family violence, as well as highlighting the importance of access to services, including legal assistance.”
The Federal Government made a number of voluntary commitments as part of the UN appearance.
“We welcome the commitments made by the Government, including to improve human rights monitoring and reporting, given that only 10 per cent of the recommendations Australia accepted as part of the first UPR were fully implemented, something a number of countries commented upon,” Alford said.
“There were also a number of other important commitments made by the Government, including to ending discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, promoting and protecting the rights of older persons internationally, and addressing issues in relation to fitness to plead for people with cognitive disability.
“The review made it clear that Australia has significant room to improve in a number of areas. The voluntary commitments and recommendations now provide a solid basis for Australia to look at its record in these areas and commit to making changes moving forward.
“We welcome the Government’s recognition of the role of non-government organisations and look forward to working constructively with the Government to monitor and implement these important recommendations.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council also raised concerns about human rights violations against Australians with disability.
Disability organisations including the Australian Cross Disability Alliance (ACDA), Advocacy for Inclusion (AFI) and the Australian Centre for Disability Law (ACDL) were in Geneva for the review.
“There are many critical human rights issues in Australia, including those for people with disability. We are pleased that key disability recommendations were made by numerous HRC member States,” ACDL Chairperson, Rosemary Kayess, said.
“These recommendations focused on the prohibition of forced sterilisation, ending violence against people with disability, including the high prevalence of violence against women and children with disability, and addressing the indefinite detention of people with disability in the criminal justice system. We implore the Australian Government to accept and implement these recommendations.”
Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia (PWDA), Therese Sands, said violence against people with disability – particularly those in institutional and residential settings – was an urgent, unaddressed national crisis.
“It has a devastating impact on some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our communities, particularly women and children with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability and people with disability from non-English speaking and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,” Sands said.
“It occurs because of failures in legislation, policy and service systems, and it is time for Australia to now act decisively.”
NACLC said the full Outcomes Report of Australia’s appearance would be released later this week and Australia will have an opportunity to formally respond in early 2016, indicating whether or not each of the recommendations are accepted.