Australia campaigned and won a seat in the powerful UN human rights council by presenting itself as a “pragmatic and principled” representative for the Pacific. But Australia had been widely criticized by the UN human rights agencies no less, for its human rights record. In particular, there are concerns over its policies on asylum seekers, juvenile justice, disability rights and offshore detention.
Lachlan Strahan, charge d’affaires of Australia’s mission led incoming members’ pledge for 11 of the 13 new members of the council. The nations included Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Chile, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and the Ukraine:
“As incoming members of the human rights council, we are committed to the success and effectiveness of the council, and are convinced that the council plays an invaluable role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide.”
Strahan likewise pledged to “engage in the work of the council in a spirit of self-reflection, with a view to improving our own human rights situation, recognizing that no state has a perfect human rights record.”
The UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination expressed concern about the on-going practice of offshore processing which presented dangerous and inhospitable conditions to refugees and other asylum seekers, especially children, who were living in the centres.
The UN labelled offshore processing in Australia as an “unfolding humanitarian emergency”.
The committee also put to light the high levels of discrimination Indigenous people continue to go through across all socio-economic indicators such as in education, healthcare, employment and housing.
The UN human rights council also advised Australia to lift the age of responsibility from 10 and asked the country to abolish its practice of forced sterilisation of women and for girls with intellectual disabilities.
Daniel Webb who represents the human rights law centre hopes Australia’s pledge will be substantiated with action:
“It’s important to hear our government promise to strengthen the UN system and to start respecting human rights findings. The world will be a fairer and more humane place if we have a strong and effective international human rights system.
“Victims of cruelty and injustice all over the world desperately need governments like ours to be part of the UN’s principled spine, not a corrosive influence gnawing away at the very foundations of human rights with their own hollow words and unprincipled actions.”