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Australia’s human rights progress faltering on global stage

7 April 2021 at 4:05 pm
Maggie Coggan
A new report shines a light on the gaps in Australia’s commitment to human rights 

Maggie Coggan | 7 April 2021 at 4:05 pm


Australia’s human rights progress faltering on global stage
7 April 2021 at 4:05 pm

A new report shines a light on the gaps in Australia’s commitment to human rights 

While many Australians consider themselves to be living in the lucky country, a new report says a lack of action on climate change, poor treatment of Indigenous people, and the ongoing detention of asylum seekers is seeing the country fall behind on the global stage. 

The issues, uncovered in Amnesty International’s annual human rights report, found that while Australia is streaks ahead of other countries in some areas, there was still a long way to go to ensure all people’s rights were protected.   

The report zoned in on Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people, in particular drawing attention to the more than 400 Indigenous deaths that have occurred in police custody since 1991 with no charges ever having been brought against detaining officers.

It comes as a Western Australian man recently became the fifth Indigenous person to die in custody since the start of March.

Samantha Klintworth, Amnesty International Australia national director, told Pro Bono News that drastic changes had to happen to ensure first nations people’s human rights were protected. 

“We’re concerned that if we don’t start to see traction around the human rights violations for Indigenous people, we’re going to lose ground on this issue and the situation [will] deteriorate even further,” Klintworth said.   

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable communities was also examined, with over-policing during the early phase of the pandemic noted as a major concern in Australia. 

Klintworth said that Amnesty received reports of people in remote Indigenous communities living in overcrowded accommodation being harassed by police for having too many people in one dwelling. 

As well as this, she said the handling of protestors during and after lockdowns was highly concerning. 

“The right to freedom of assembly has also been compromised during the pandemic with restrictions on protests continuing in states like New South Wales where most other restrictions have been lifted,” Klintworth said.

“The well-documented and heavy-handed tactics used by police at Black Lives Matters protests and the University of Sydney last year demonstrated that protesters are treated differently to cricket fans and shoppers when gathering in numbers.” 

The ongoing detention of refugees and asylum seekers was also labelled in the report as “troubling”, particularly when it came to the treatment of people transferred to Australia for urgent medical treatment. 

“Those who had been evacuated from immigration detention in Papua New Guinea, including Manus Island, for medical care in Australia remained in so-called alternative places of detention (APODs) with no indication of when they would be released,” the report said. 

The global community is watching 

Klintworth said that while Australia had made many gains on human rights, the global community was keeping a close eye on the lack of progress in certain areas. 

“I think the Australian community looks at our human rights situation and comparatively to the rest of the world feels as though we’re doing well,” she said.  

“What the report highlights for me is that the global community is watching and that we have work to do.”  

She said it was critical civil society kept fighting human rights abuses and the right to protest.  

“From a solutions perspective, we also believe that a federal Human Rights Act would provide a legislative framework which would allow all people to have access to justice and protection,” she said. 

Read the full report here. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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