NGOs urge Australia to call out human rights violations
28 October 2019 at 4:44 pm
Global reports say just 4 per cent of the world’s population live in countries that respect free expression and peaceful assembly
The aid sector is urging Australia’s foreign policy makers to more actively fight against the growing repression of peoples’ rights and freedoms in the Indo-Pacific region.
During the Australian Council for International Development’s (ACFID) national conference, NGOs agreed to push the Australian government to strengthen its foreign policy in the region by promoting political, economic and religious freedoms.
This unanimously passed motion – introduced by Save the Children and Oxfam Australia – also called for increased funding for global NGO programs, and for greater support for aid groups in their efforts preserving people’s rights around the world.
ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said for 13 consecutive years, the world has seen a decline in political rights and civil liberties while the space for civil society was attacked and curtailed.
He said research had shown only 4 per cent of the world’s population now lived in countries where freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression were respected.
“It is in Australia’s region where some of the most egregious repression has occurred. Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, human rights violations in Myanmar and the imprisonment of opposition leaders in Cambodia are the tip of the iceberg,” Purcell said.
“This growing repression is a threat to Australia because it sets the scene for greater conflict and a more unstable region.
“Australia must act with its international partners, use its position on the UN Human Rights Council to champion universal human rights and call out violations.”
ACFID welcomed a speech last week from the minister for international development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke MP, who said Australia would speak out on human rights violations and make clear when its values were threatened.
But Purcell said the government must more actively address freedom violations and invest in a strong civil society through Australia’s aid program – which is currently the least generous it has ever been.
“Flourishing and vibrant civil societies in our backyard makes Australia less vulnerable to geographic, climatic, economic and political crises,” he said.
“Australia’s development cooperation program can sharpen its game in arresting the trends we are witnessing.”
ACFID members working in the Indo-Pacific region have noted a shrinking space for civil society and state-imposed restrictions around access for international aid workers.
Mat Tinkler, acting CEO of Save the Children Australia, said civil society groups were central to a functioning democracy but were increasingly silenced by governments.
“Raising human rights concerns or being critical of government policy shouldn’t put funding for vital services or humanitarian aid at risk,” Tinkler said.
“To achieve long-term, sustainable change, civil society organisations must have the ability to participate fully and advocate vigorously without fear of retribution.”
Oxfam Australia CEO Lyn Morgain added that it was crucial to a functioning democracy that NGOs were able to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms through advocacy.
She said a vital test of any democracy was the ability of the people to express views not shared by the government.
“Without the ability to influence policy and social attitudes, Oxfam would simply not be able to deliver on its mission here and around the world,” Morgain said.
“ACFID members are facing an increasingly restricted environment in many countries where we work, which challenges our ability to hold governments to account while providing critical services, such as healthcare, and humanitarian assistance.”