Peter Greste Wins Human Rights Medal
10 December 2015 at 3:36 pm
Journalist Peter Greste has won the 2015 Human Rights Medal at a ceremony in Sydney.
Greste was detained in Egypt for almost two years for allegedly spreading false news.
Greste has since campaigned tirelessly for the release of his colleagues, and campaigned for freedom of speech as a cornerstone of democratic societies.
In presenting the Human Rights Medal, Human Rights President Professor Gillian Triggs described Greste as a humble and inspiring individual who fought for freedom and justice.
“Journalists must be free to report news and criticise governments without fear of punishment,” Professor Triggs said.
— Xavier Smerdon (@XavierSmerdon) December 10, 2015
Triggs used her keynote address to the awards ceremony to again tackle Australia's political leaders over their human rights record, describing their actions as “a misuse of power”.
She said that Australia had seen a lessening of the fundamental freedoms of speech, privacy and assembly, as well as the continued mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees.
“The violation of human rights laws by respective Australian Governments, especially of the right not to be detained arbitrarily without charge or trial has attracted the concern of the international community,” Triggs said.
“Our counter-terrorism laws are but one example of unchecked intrusion of the executive in our lives. Another is the use of the Government’s power of administrative detention.
“I believe one of the greatest challenges for our political leaders is to ensure that counter-terrorist measures do not diminish our humanity for asylum seekers fleeing conflict and discrimination; that we should avoid the false stereotype that Muslims seeking Australia’s protection are potential terrorists.
“Many counter-terrorism laws have been introduced with unseemly haste… that go well beyond what is proportionate.
“It is imperative that we do not equate violent terrorism with the peaceful religion of Islam.”
President Triggs says that efforts to tackle counter terror risk striking at the heart of our successful multicultural nation #HRA2015
— HumanRightsLawCentre (@rightsagenda) December 10, 2015
She said the Commission was particularly concerned by the growing instances of detention in prisons of those with cognitive disabilities for lengthy periods without releasing them into more appropriate facilities.
“As a lawyer I remain concerned that in some jurisdictions there is little access to legal advice or regular review by an independent tribunal,” she said.
“I've raised concerns about detention powers of the Executive that have been expanded to detain asylum seekers and refugees indefinitely, without meaningful access to legal advice or independent review.”
Triggs clashed with the Federal Government earlier this year when Attorney General Senator George Brandis described her position as “untenable”, following evidence to a Senate hearing about the purpose of her inquiry into the detention of children by the Immigration Department.
Triggs, whose contract extends to 2017, rejected calls for her resignation.
— Elenie Poulos (@EleniePoulos) December 10, 2015
Triggs again called on the Australian Government to end offshore detention and return all refugees held in offshore detention centres back to Australia.
She said her Commissioners had continued to visit all the detention centers, including three visits to Christmas island, the most recent visit being to Wickham Point where 76 children remain today.
“These experiences have been traumatizing as we listened to hundreds of personal family stories of attempted suicides, persecution and hopelessness,” she said.
“Unlike every other common law country in the world, Australia has no charter or Bill of Rights against which government actions can be measure.
“Australia has not developed the legal or parliamentary tools for protection of human rights that are available in comparable legal systems. It is for this reason that the Executive government, with the support of Parliament, is able to pass laws that threaten our democratic freedoms with apparent impunity.”
She said that the Commission had long argued that Australia needed a legislated Charter of Rights to provide a benchmark against which Government acts and Parliamentary laws could be assessed.
The 28th annual Human Rights Awards coincided with international Human Rights Day.
An excerpt of Professor Triggs’s speech is available here.
The other Human Rights Award winners were:
The Young People’s Human Rights Medal: Yen Eriksen
Yen Eriksen, 23, is a community radio host and documentary maker who joined the ACT Government Ministerial Advisory Council for LGBTIQ in 2013. She became interested in human rights from an early age.
“It came with the territory of being born in Australia, to migrant parents, being born a woman and being born, knowing from a very young age, that I was queer,” Eriksen said.
The Law Award: Genevieve Bolton
Genevieve Bolton has dedicated her career to improving access to justice and is a powerful advocate for systemic change. She is principal solicitor at Canberra Community Law.
The Business Award (joint winners): Coles and Maitree House Productions
Coles has a long-running Indigenous employment program which supports positive experiences for Indigenous staff and customers. Maitree House Productions uses multimedia tools to give voice to young people, women, and Indigenous people.
The ‘Racism. It Stops With Me’ Award: Tasmanian Students Against Racism
Students Against Racism is an effective education and advocacy group involving more than 10,000 participants. The Students Against Racism workshop has been included in University and TAFE courses.
The Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Community Award: Ludo McFerran
Ludo McFerran has worked tirelessly for the human rights of women and children in the area of women and domestic violence for the past 30 years and has been responsible for innovative and effective policy changes in this area, greatly assisting women and children to deal with and escape from family violence.
The Media Award: Kirsti Melville for The Storm (Radio National, ABC)
Kristi Melville’s powerful documentary tells the story of her former partner Erik’s sexual abuse as a child. Erik speaks about his abuse and the toll it took on his relationships.