Fight for freedom: new research to map violence in the forgotten conflict in West Papua



BAGUS INDAHONO/EPA

Camellia Webb-Gannon, University of Wollongong; Jaime Swift, University of Oxford; Michael Westaway, The University of Queensland, and Nathan Wright, The University of Queensland

Indonesia has recently indicated it is considering investigating the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in the 1965 “anti-communist” purge under authoritarian leader Suharto.

If the inquiry goes ahead, it would mark a shift in the government’s long-standing failure to address past atrocities. It is unclear if they will include other acts of brutality alleged to have been committed by the Indonesian regime in the troubled region of West Papua.

According to Amnesty International, at least 100,000 West Papuans have been killed since the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s.

While the number of killings peaked in the 1970s, they are rising again due to renewed activism for independence in the territory. In September 2019, as many as 41 people were killed in clashes with security forces and Jihadi-inspired militia.

Clashes between security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have escalated since January, which human rights groups say have resulted in at least five deaths. At least two other civilians were killed in another incident.

The latest violence was sparked by racial attacks on Papuan university students in Java last year, which prompted thousands of Papuans to protest against the government. The protests brought renewed media attention to human rights violations in the region and Papuans’ decades-long fight for autonomy.

However, because the international media have been prohibited from entering West Papua, the broader conflict has received relatively little attention from the outside world. (This week’s feature by ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in Australia was a rare exception.)




Read more:
Riots in West Papua: why Indonesia needs to answer for its broken promises


New project to map past atrocities

Late last year, we embarked on a project to map the violence that has occurred in West Papua under Indonesian occupation.

This was in part inspired by the massacre mapping project of Indigenous people in Australia by the Guardian and University of Newcastle, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s mapping of violence in Sri Lanka.

Our aim was to bring renewed attention to the protracted crisis in West Papua. We hope that by showing the extent of state-sanctioned violence going back decades, we might encourage the kind of international scrutiny that eventually led to intervention in East Timor.




Read more:
Will Australia take a stand on West Papua?


The map only documents some of the massacres that have taken place in West Papua since the 1970s, as conditions in the territory make it difficult to accurately record and verify deaths. The challenges include a lack of resources for record-keeping, internal displacement and frequently destroyed properties, and a fear of reporting deaths. Others have disappeared, and their bodies have never been found.

We also encountered a relative dearth of data from the 1990s to 2010s, in part due to few journalists reporting on incidents during this period.

For the purposes of our project, we relied largely on reportage from the Asian Human Rights Commission and the International Coalition for Papua (both of which have strong connections within West Papua), as well as research by the historian Robin Osborne, Papuan rights organisation ELSHAM, Indonesian human rights watchdog TAPOL and a comprehensive report by academics at Yale Law School published in 2004.

Among the most recent attacks is the torture and murders of scores of protesters on Biak Island in 1998, according to a citizens’ tribunal held in Sydney. Some estimates say the death toll may have been as high as 200.



Though far from complete, our mapping project reveals several broad trends.

  • The majority of massacres have taken place in the West Papuan highlands, the region with the highest ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous West Papuans

  • many killings were committed while Papuans were peacefully protesting for independence from Indonesia

  • given the numbers of troops posted to West Papua and the types of weapons at their disposal, the government should have had full knowledge of the extent of devastation caused by attacks by security forces and militia groups. (Indonesian security forces are generally known for being out of the government’s control)

  • in the vast majority of killings, the perpetrators have never been held to account by the government.

The government claims the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) is conducting inquiries into some of the more recent incidents, although there are concerns the body doesn’t have sufficient powers and the government has previously been reluctant to accept findings of abuses.

Why has the world stayed silent?

Both Australia and New Zealand have been hesitant about intervening in human rights crises in the region, particularly when Indonesia is involved.

In 2006, Australia signed the Lombok Treaty, which assured Jakarta it would respect the sovereignty of the Indonesian state and not support “separatist movements”.

However, Australia – and the rest of the world – did finally act when it came to the independence referendum in East Timor.

Australian troops serving on the East Timor/West Timor border with the UN peacekeeping force in 2000.
Dean Lewins/AAP

In his memoir, former Prime Minister John Howard mentioned East Timor independence as one of his key achievements. However, in office, he showed very little appetite for supporting East Timor independence and ruffling Indonesia’s feathers.

It was largely the diplomatic intervention at the international level by US President Bill Clinton, alongside the deployment of Australian Federal Police (AFP) working as unarmed civilian police for the UN mission in East Timor, that eventually secured the referendum.

Co-author Jaime Swift serving in East Timor in 2006.
Author provided

Media coverage played a critical role in persuading the world to take action. In West Papua, the media have not had the same effect.

This is in part due to what the Indonesian security forces learned from East Timor on how to control the media. The Indonesian government has frequently cut internet services in West Papua, enacted a complete ban on foreign journalists and denied requests from the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights violations.

Despite this, mobile phone videos of abuse continue to leak out.

In the absence of extensive media coverage, Papuan pro-democracy advocates and their supporters have been calling for a UN-sanctioned human rights investigation. There is also significant support from human rights defenders in Indonesia for such an inquiry.

As it now has a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia should fully support such a move. However, the military retains considerable influence in the country, and holding commanders suspected of human rights abuses to account remains politically difficult.




Read more:
Joko Widodo looks set to win the Indonesia election. Now, the real power struggle begins


In fact, President Joko Widodo last year appointed as his new defence minister Prabowo Subianto, who himself has been accused of human rights abuses.

Given these challenges, what will it take for the world to show enough moral courage to force change in West Papua?

The right way forward is clear. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia needs to put an end to the media ban in West Papuan, support an independent UN investigation and hold accountable those responsible within the government for violent acts.

If Indonesia does not take this course of action, then diplomatic pressure from the world will be required.The Conversation

Camellia Webb-Gannon, Lecturer, University of Wollongong; Jaime Swift, DPhil (PhD) candidate, University of Oxford; Michael Westaway, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Archaeology, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, and Nathan Wright, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sending children back to school during coronavirus has human rights implications



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Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Donna McNamara, University of Newcastle

Debates about a return to classroom learning in Australia are fraught, and parents have mixed feelings as to what may be best for their children.

This confusion is likely influenced by a sense of mixed messages from different approaches around the country.

For example, term 2 began this week in New South Wales. From week 3, children in government schools have been allocated a day per week when they should learn on site. In Western Australia, parents have been asked to decide if their children will return to the classroom, learn online from home or learn from home with hard copy materials. The situation in both states is to be reviewed around week 3.

In contrast, all Victorian students who can learn from home must do so. The ACT is also proceeding with online learning for all children who can be supervised at home.

Human rights relevant to schooling

Australia lacks a comprehensive human rights framework, although human rights laws have been passed in the ACT, Victoria and Queensland. Little commentary to date has considered the return to school in a human rights context.

Human rights are interconnected values. Many are relevant to this issue and the pandemic more broadly.

Under international law, all people have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The right to health extends beyond access to health care. Importantly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it includes a right to the prevention, treatment and control of disease.

All people, and particularly children, also have a right to education. This right is described as essential for people to participate effectively in a free society. Countries are obliged to protect the right by ensuring, at a minimum, free and compulsory primary education and a system of schools to provide equitable access to education at each level.

International law also confirms the right of all people not only to work, but to enjoy just and favourable conditions of work. This includes a right to safe and healthy working conditions.

Human rights issues arising from a return to the classroom

How can we balance human rights implications of a return to classroom learning, when rights may come into tension with each other?

Most human rights can be constrained, although not to the point where their essence is denied. Limitations on rights must be necessary in response to a pressing public or social need. They must also pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate to that aim.

When we consider rights in tension at this time, it is clear a right to health must be the primary focus. A weakening of protective measures may heighten the risk of a second wave of the virus.

A return to classroom learning should be made in consideration of the rights of both staff and children to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. Australian parents and school staff are being encouraged to view schools as safe environments.

However, the advice for those who are at risk continues to be to stay at home. While some jurisdictions are moving to require in-person attendance, little has been said about how at-risk staff and students are to be protected at school or supported to continue in isolation.

Aspects of a return to school also pose mental health risks. Some students who require set daily routines may become anxious when required to attend only one day per week. Others, especially high school students in their final year, should perhaps be prioritised to return as a cohort in order to complete their education.

For teachers, there are significant workload implications in managing both in-class and online cohorts of students. The right of teachers to enjoy good mental health may also be compromised by a sense of risk in the return to classroom teaching. The potential for stress-related illnesses is obvious among parents, many of whom have found learning from home taxing on their mental health.

There is a widespread desire to support the right of students to education. Schools in Australia have mostly remained open throughout the peak of the crisis for children of essential workers and children who are safer at school than at home. This approach was a measured means of balancing rights to health and education and could be maintained for a longer period across the country.

It has been argued here that the “staggered” return to school in some states ought to prioritise the needs of children at certain key stages of learning.

We add that the most vulnerable children should also be prioritised. For example, greater equity in access to education at this time may call for special arrangements to include students with disabilities, chronic illnesses or mental health conditions. Students who lack at-home access to online learning could also be prioritised in a return to the classroom.

The physical environment in schools is a further complicating factor, particularly in terms of teachers’ rights to safe conditions of work. The prime minister is adamant schools are exempt from social-distancing requirements. Yet those states returning students to the classroom are implicitly undermining that message by setting maximum numbers and requiring staggered break times and other measures.

Many teachers feel confused and stressed about how they can do their work safely. This is unsurprising, given some states and other countries are taking much more cautious approaches to the health and safety of school staff.

No magic right answer

The balancing process between human rights values at this time is highly complex and beyond what we can hope to resolve in this article. And human rights analyses cannot deliver us a simple “right” answer as to how the return to classroom learning should be managed.

What human rights give us is another frame through which to consider these fundamental challenges. There are obvious economic and educational imperatives to prompt a return to classroom learning. Our national debate could be richer and more inclusive if it also included human rights claims.The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Associate Professor in Human Rights and International Law, University of Newcastle and Donna McNamara, Lecturer in Law, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For Australia to be respected on human rights, it needs to look deeper into its own record


Jon Piccini, Australian Catholic University

Australia has just entered its final year of its membership on the UN Human Rights Council. This position was won on the strength of two key arguments:

  • Australia would be the first Pacific nation to sit on the body, founded in 2007

  • our long-standing commitments to civil and political rights made us a safe set of hands among a membership that includes several dictatorships.

This championing of Australia’s record, however, sits oddly beside our own well-publicised violations of human rights, most visibly on asylum seekers and Indigenous rights.

My new book, Human Rights in Twentieth Century Australia, probes this contradiction. One of the questions I grapple with is how a nation that crows of its achievements in certain areas of human rights can so flagrantly breach others.

One answer is that Australia has long used its British heritage of civil and political rights and higher average standard of living to discount more expansive social, economic and cultural rights, particularly when it comes to questions of race and citizenship.




Read more:
With a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia must fix its record on Indigenous rights


Australia’s patchy human rights history

It is often forgotten that Australian representatives joined those of seven other nations to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Attorney-General Herbert Vere Evatt headed the negotiating team. He argued for a strong document enforceable by an international court, which would defend traditional “negative” rights like freedom of expression, alongside “positive” ones such as the right to work.

Even at this high point of global consensus following the second world war, Australia’s double-handed approach to human rights was apparent. While Evatt likened the UDHR to Australia’s sentimental belief that everyone deserves a “fair go”, he guaranteed the White Australia Policy would not be threatened by such a document.

Herbert Vere Evatt (left) and Anthony Eden, the UK foreign secretary, at a UN meeting in 1945 in San Francisco.
United Nations, Author provided

Using language that echoes Australia’s asylum policy today, he said

There is no relationship between the Declaration of Human Rights […] and the exercise by a country of its national right […] to determine the composition of its own people.

This argument for the primacy of so-called “domestic jurisdiction” was also extended to the rights of Indigenous peoples by Evatt and other Australian leaders at the time, meaning their rights were considered to be only of national concern.




Read more:
Australia’s human rights debate has always been political


The Communist newspaper Tribune captured this in a cartoon depicting the worldly Evatt set against an enchained Indigenous man to whom rights had little meaning.

By positioning itself as a responsible “middle power” on human rights, while also insisting it be judged by a scorecard of its own choosing, a benchmark was set for future Australian governments.

Human rights have, henceforth, been understood very restrictively in Australia.

Challenges to Australia’s human rights policies

Despite such evasions, Indigenous people, refugees and other social movements have long used human rights discussions and debates to further social and political agendas.

Chinese wartime refugees, dubbed a “recalcitrant minority” by Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell, were threatened with deportation in 1949. They petitioned the newly formed Australian Human Rights Commission, protesting “in the name of humanity” for their protection “from the arbitrary and inhuman actions” of the minister.

Indigenous Australians also began petitioning the commission in the 1960s, challenging governmental obfuscations on human rights directly.




Read more:
UN slams Australia’s human rights record


While Australia insisted the country’s Indigenous policy accorded with the UN’s language of equality, a 1970 petition by five Indigenous Australians – delivered in person to the UN offices in New York – declared nothing had changed.

Alleging the ongoing “literal, physical destruction of our people”, the petitioners demanded Australia be judged

in light of what it does […] rather than what it says.

Indigenous peoples have been petitioning the Human Rights Commission for greater recognition of their rights since the 1960s.
Danny Casey/AAP

From collective to individual rights

Starting in the late 1970s, the focus of international human rights shifted. Protecting individuals from suffering and violence replaced the fight for collective economic and social rights that defined the era of decolonisation in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Groups like Amnesty International, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, made political prisoners and basic sufficiency the watchwords of rights activism.

Economic, social and cultural rights were thus downgraded in importance compared to civil and political ones. Such a focus imposed few obligations on Australia, already a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law.

Gareth Evans, attorney-general under the Hawke government, said in 1978 the very idea of economic and social rights was:

beyond the scope of the topic ‘human rights’ as that term has meaning in this country.

Since the late 2000s, though, the ground has moved quickly. On one hand, Australia’s continued violation of Indigenous rights has garnered more international condemnation.

The failure to deliver on the promise of constitutional recognition – one of the “pillars” of Australia’s Human Rights Council bid – seems particularly egregious.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 has also created reporting and compliance mechanisms unavailable to earlier generations. Under this declaration, the UN has already condemned the so-called “Intervention” in the Northern Territory and the revelations of abuse at the Don Dale detention centre.




Read more:
Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians must involve structural change, not mere symbolism


Western governments like Australia are also back in the crosshairs on economic rights.

Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, acknowledged in December 2018 that Amnesty’s focus on political prisoners meant issues of poverty, inequality, housing, food and sanitation had largely disappeared from activists’ lexicon.

It’s now necessary to view human rights as a “package”, Naidoo said, including renewed focus on economic rights. And importantly, western and non-western nations can – and must – be judged on an equal footing.

Australia has already seen what this future looks like. The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Phillip Alston, recently said in a widely publicised report the so-called “Robo Debt” and Cashless Welfare Card schemes were bringing forth a “digital welfare dystopia”.

Australia should expect more uncomfortable finger pointing in future. If we are to remain a human rights leader at home and abroad, the ranking of some rights as more important than others must come to an end.The Conversation

Jon Piccini, Lecturer, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Human rights in 2018 – ten issues that made headlines



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Rohingya women and children being moved on a truck south of Yangon, Myanmar.
AAP/EPA/Lynn Bo Bo

Louise Chappell, UNSW and Elaine Pearson, UNSW

On December 10, the world marks 70 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Regrettably, instead of the anniversary signalling the enduring impact of human rights, some are fearing the “end of human rights”. Here we highlight some of the rights challenges that captured the world’s attention this year, illustrating the struggle to secure human rights is far from over.

1. Australia’s first year on the UN Human Rights Council

Australia took its place on the UN Human Rights Council this year for a three-year term. Australia delivered a strong statement about Myanmar’s atrocities against ethnic Rohingya Muslims, but was criticised for holding refugees and asylum seekers offshore. While Australia supported important country resolutions, it failed to take a leadership role on any key issues.

2. United States’ retreat from Human Rights Council

The US faced international condemnation when it quit the Human Rights Council, calling it a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias”. The US has long complained of the council’s perceived bias against Israel. But, by withdrawing, the US decreased its options for confronting and addressing human rights violators. This increases the responsibility of governments like Australia’s to ensure the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights violations.

3. Violence against women

In Australia, while the #MeToo movement has spurred women to come forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, a number of high-profile cases of alleged sexual harassment by actors and politicians highlighted ongoing barriers to justice for victims. At the same time, the #countingdeadwomen femicide index reports that one woman in Australia is killed every week by an intimate partner.

4. Facebook’s reckoning

Free speech, privacy and electoral integrity came under the microscope in March, when a former employee of Cambridge Analytica blew the whistle on its practice of harvesting data from millions of US Facebook users in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential elections.

Cambridge Analytica was also investigated in the UK for a possible role in the Brexit referendum.

There is also growing criticism of Facebook for not doing enough to stop its use to spread hate speech. For example, in Myanmar it has been used as a tool to incite violence against Rohingya.

5. Rohingya crisis

In August, a UN Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar, which included Australian human rights expert Chris Sidoti, delivered a scathing report detailing crimes against humanity, war crimes, sexual violence and possible genocide by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya.




Read more:
Explainer: why the UN has found Myanmar’s military committed genocide against the Rohingya


The UN Human Rights Council, in response, created a mechanism to collect and preserve evidence to aid future prosecutions for atrocity crimes in Myanmar. Australia joined other Western nations in imposing targeted sanctions on military officers named in the UN report. While the Australian government maintains an arms embargo on Myanmar, our defence forces continue to provide training to the Myanmar military.

6. Crackdown against Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang

Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region have long faced repression. In 2018, Human Rights Watch and others reported an escalation in this repression with the government detaining 1 million people in political re-education camps, with evidence of their torture and mistreatment. Muslims not detained still face pervasive controls on freedom of movement and religion. The Foreign Affairs Department revealed under parliamentary questioning that three Australians were detained in the camps.

7. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia made international headlines when a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The case prompted a closer examination of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The country’s repression, imprisonment and ill-treatment of activists includes the alleged torture of leading women’s rights defenders.

In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition has committed many violations of international humanitarian law, including apparent war crimes, killing thousands of civilians. Millions of Yemenis are confronting a famine, in part because of restrictions on aid delivery. Yet the USA, UK, France and Australia sell the Saudi government weapons and military equipment that may well contribute to its Yemen campaign.

Millions of Yemenis are facing a famine.
Yarya Arhab/AAP/EPA

8. Children off Nauru

Australia’s government appeared to respond to the “Kids Off Nauru” campaign launched by civil society groups, medical professionals and lawyers. December figures show ten refugee children remain on the island, down from 119 children in August.




Read more:
As children are airlifted from Nauru, a cruel and inhumane policy may finally be ending


Mounting political pressure forced the government to remove children who had been transferred there in 2013 and 2014, though many were removed from Nauru only after legal proceedings were started. But the departure of families makes the situation even more desperate for the adults left behind. And those transferred to Australia are told they will not remain permanently, keeping them in limbo.

9. One year since the Uluru statement

Indigenous communities have fought hard throughout 2018 to have the federal government focus on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, after the Turnbull government dismissed it out of hand in 2017.

The statement calls for a constitutionally enshrined “First Nations Voice” in parliament and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreement-making between governments and First Nations, and facilitate truth-telling of First Nations’ histories. These steps were seen as laying the foundation for a treaty with Australia’s First Nations peoples. A 2018 parliamentary committee endorsed the need for a voice in parliament and has called for a process of co-design between Indigenous people and government appointees.

10. LGBTI discrimination

One year on from the breakthrough on marriage equality, the parliamentary year ended with Australia’s politicians unable to find a way to remove legislative exemptions allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI pupils and teachers.




Read more:
Political impasse stops protection for LGBT students passing this year


Advocates and the Labor opposition rejected government amendments that sought to stop schools being able to exclude students on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics, but would also allow them to enforce rules in line with their religious teachings.The Conversation

Louise Chappell, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute; Professor of Law, UNSW and Elaine Pearson, Adjunct Lecturer in Law, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

UN delivers strong rebuke to Australian government on women’s rights



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The UN committee issued over 90 recommendations for improvement, demonstrating that negative aspects far outweigh progress on women’s rights.
Shutterstock

Maria Nawaz, UNSW and Tess Deegan, UNSW

This week, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women handed down its recommendations from its review of Australia’s compliance with the women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The UN delivered a scathing critique of Australia’s failures to protect and promote the rights of women and girls.




Read more:
UN set to review Australia’s record on women’s rights – and may find it wanting


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is a UN treaty body, made up of 23 independent experts from around the world, and its key functions include:

  • examining state parties’ implementation of rights under the convention

  • making recommendations detailing how state parties can improve compliance with the convention

  • accepting individual complaints about violations of rights under the convention

What did the committee say about Australia’s record on women’s rights?

The committee noted areas of improvement, including marriage equality, the introduction of the paid parental leave scheme and the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status and family responsibilities.

However, it also issued over 90 recommendations for improvement, demonstrating that negative aspects far outweigh progress on women’s rights.

Human rights framework

The committee reiterated its 2010 recommendations that Australia should introduce a charter of rights. The Committee also recommended that Australia harmonise state, federal and territory discrimination laws to enhance their effectiveness in prohibiting discrimination against women.

The committee denounced funding cuts to the Australian Human Rights Commission, and emphasised the importance of the government respecting the independence of the commission.

Violence against women and sexual harassment

The committee noted the endemic nature of violence against women, with one in three women experiencing physical violence, and almost one in five women experiencing sexual violence. The committee recommended that the government reinforce efforts to change behaviours that lead to violence against women. This includes encouraging reporting violence, and adequately funding services under the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

The committee raised the prevalence of sexual harassment, and recommended that the government take into account the outcomes of the national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, encourage reporting and impose appropriate sanctions on perpetrators.

Women’s economic disadvantage

The committee condemned the government’s lack of gender budget analysis. It said:

The Committee considers that some of the State party’s recent cuts to social, health, education and justice budgets, reduction of taxes for high income groups and increase of the defence budget represent a setback…

It recommended the government take immediate measures to mitigate the effect of recent budget cuts on women, implement gender-responsive budgeting in the allocation of public resources, and reinstate the funding of services catering to women’s rights.

Access to justice

The committee criticised funding cuts to legal assistance services, and urged the government to implement the recommendations of the 2014 Productivity Commission Inquiry into Access to Justice. This includes ensuring adequate funding for community legal centres and legal aid.

The committee raised concern at provisions in funding agreements that restrict the ability of community legal centres and civil society organisations to advocate for women’s rights, and recommended the government remove provisions from funding agreements that restrict freedom of expression.

Treatment of diverse groups of women

The committee recognised that diverse groups of women, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, LGBTI women, women with disability, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, refugee women and older women experience greater barriers to accessing and enforcing their rights.

These include discrimination, lack of access to appropriate services, higher risk of violence, higher unemployment and homelessness rates, and lower representation in public life. The committee recommended numerous measures to improve gender equality for diverse groups of women.

Where to from here?

The release of these recommendations comes at a time of great uncertainty in international human rights. We’re seeing a disturbing retreat from fundamental human rights principles and institutions across the world.

While Australia has been using its seat on the Human Rights Council to advocate at the international level for the rights of women and girls, the gap between our global leadership on gender equality and the reality faced by women and girls in the Australian community is stark.




Read more:
Australia’s record on racial equality under the microscope


Australia has an extremely poor record of implementing treaty body recommendations. During the committee’s review of Australia last month, the Australian government, while stating that it takes its international obligations “incredibly seriously”, admitted that on most fronts it had no plans to amend laws or policies to improve protection of the rights of women and girls in the Australian community.

As part of the committee’s follow-up procedure, Australia must explain to the committee what steps it has taken to implement priority recommendations within two years.

The committee’s four priority recommendations focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, funding for women’s services, reproductive rights, and ending offshore processing of refugees.

The ConversationThe challenge for Australia is to engage positively with the committee’s recommendations and implement changes to improve human rights for women and girls at home

Maria Nawaz, Law Reform Solicitor/Clinical Legal Supervisor, Kingsford Legal Centre UNSW; Lecturer, UNSW Human Rights Clinic, UNSW and Tess Deegan, Law Reform Solicitor/Clinical Legal Supervisor at Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Yes, the US border policy is harsh – but Australia’s treatment of refugee children has also been deplorable


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Villawood Detention Centre, NSW. There are currently 200 asylum seeker children in detention, in Australia and offshore.
Australian Human Rights Commission

Deborah Zion, Victoria University

US President Donald Trump’s policy of separating children from their families at the Mexican border has sparked outrage in recent months, both in the US and abroad. It became so heated that he eventually ended the separation of families, though their fate remains unclear.

However, Trump is not the only leader to incarcerate children and use their suffering as a form of deterrence. The detention of asylum-seeker children has a long and brutal history in Australia. Trump’s policy invites us to reflect on our own policies regarding the detention of asylum seekers and the situation of children and families fleeing persecution.

Currently, over 200 children are in asylum-seeker detention, including on Nauru, in mainland detention centres and in community-based detention. Many have endured prison-like conditions, with no clear date for their release for months, if not years.

While most children remain with one of their parents, my research has found that separation of families is common. This includes the removal of young men on their 18th birthdays from their families with no warning or follow-up as to their whereabouts.

The mandatory incarceration of asylum-seeker children is an uncommon practice globally. It contravenes important human rights instruments to which Australia is a signatory, most notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This states:

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily … (This) shall be used only as measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

The degree of despair felt by children and their families is well-documented and goes back many years.

In 2004, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) published A Last Resort? National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. This document outlined the privations of the lives of those held in detention centres in Australia, including the famous case of Shayan Badraie. He was detained for nearly two years, witnessing attempted suicide, self-harming and violence that resulted in several hospital admissions before the family was released.

The report also documents physical assault by guards, mental illness and lack of appropriate food, shelter and education.




Read more:
Accusations of deliberate, cruel abuse of refugee children must prompt a more humane approach


A Last Resort not only documents terrible human rights abuses, but the ongoing effects on those who experienced them. But, far from ending the incarceration of children and their parents, the policy of detention as deterrence has continued. In this regard, Australia is unusual, being the only developed country that imposes mandatory detention on people arriving by boat.

In 2014, the HREOC conducted another investigation, The Forgotten Children. This report documents in detail ongoing breaches of human rights, unsafe living conditions, medical neglect and physical and sexual assault.

Dehumanisation occurs on every level. One 16-year-old boy stated:

People were called by boat ID. People had no value. No guards called me by name. They knew our name, but only called by boat ID.

Children are also constantly exposed to the trauma of other detainees. One father said:

The word of “suicide” is not an unknown word to our children anymore. They are growing up with these bitter words. Last week a lot of women took action to suicide in Construction Camp. All the kids were scared and crying. How do we remove these bad scenes from our kids’ memories?

The report documents other cases of despair. A 13 year-old-boy detained on Nauru expressed to the treating doctor “a complete loss of hope; despair”. The doctor described how “[h]e had no appetite and no will to eat. He lost over 10 kilograms, which would be about a quarter of his body weight.”




Read more:
Sending children back to Nauru risks creating a generation of damaged people


The Australian government has tried to hide the conditions experienced by those held in places like Nauru and Manus Island. In particular, the Border Force Act (2015-17) imposed criminal sanctions on workers who speak publicly about what they see.

However, there is overwhelming and easily accessible evidence that Australia’s policies cause both immediate and ongoing trauma to children, and indeed all those incarcerated in detention. We must recall that Australia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention and that seeking asylum is enshrined in this instrument.

So while we can express moral outrage about things that occur far from home, our own policies ensure human rights breaches that cause unnecessary suffering and trauma for long periods of time.

There is now substantial evidence of the poor treatment of asylum-seeker children. This has come from a plethora of reports from human rights organisations, healthcare providers and detainees like Behrouz Boochani, who document and publish the conditions of incarceration.

The ConversationThey remind us of what the Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer said: “Do not be a victim; do not be a perpetrator; and above all, do not be a bystander.”

Deborah Zion, Associate Professor and Chair, Victoria University Human Research Ethics Committee, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New data tool scores Australia and other countries on their human rights performance



File 20180329 189827 17jfcp2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Despite the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it remains difficult to monitor governments’ performance because there are no comprehensive human rights measures.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

K. Chad Clay, University of Georgia

This year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will mark its 70th anniversary, but despite progress in some areas, it remains difficult to measure or compare governments’ performance. We have yet to develop comprehensive human rights measures that are accepted by researchers, policymakers and advocates alike.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I have started the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), the first global project to develop a comprehensive suite of metrics covering international human rights.

We have now released our beta dataset and data visualisation tools, publishing 12 metrics that cover five economic and social rights and seven civil and political rights.

Lack of human rights data

People often assume the UN already produces comprehensive data on nations’ human rights performance, but it does not, and likely never will. The members of the UN are governments, and governments are the very actors that are obligated by international human rights law. It would be naïve to hope for governments to effectively monitor and measure their own performance without political bias. There has to be a role for non-state measurement.




Read more:
Australia’s Human Rights Council election comes with a challenge to improve its domestic record


We hope that the data and visualisations provided by HRMI will empower practitioners, advocates, researchers, journalists and others to speak clearly about human rights outcomes worldwide and hold governments accountable when they fail to meet their obligations under international law.

These are the 12 human rights measured by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) project during its pilot stage. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines 30 human rights.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative, CC BY

The HRMI pilot

At HRMI, alongside our existing methodology for economic and social rights, we are developing a new way of measuring civil and political human rights. In our pilot, we sent an expert survey directly to human rights practitioners who are actively monitoring each country’s human rights situation.

That survey asked respondents about their country’s performance on the rights to assembly and association, opinion and expression, political participation, freedom from torture, freedom from disappearance, freedom from execution, and freedom from arbitrary or political arrest and imprisonment.

Based on those survey responses, we develop data on the overall level of respect for each of the rights. These data are calculated using a statistical method that ensures responses are comparable across experts and countries, and with an uncertainty band to provide transparency about how confident we are in each country’s placement. We also provide information on who our respondents believed were especially at risk for each type of human rights violation.

Human rights in Australia

One way to visualise data on our website is to look at a country’s performance across all 12 human rights for which we have released data at this time. For example, the graph below shows Australia’s performance across all HRMI metrics.

Human rights performance in Australia. Data necessary to calculate a metric for the right to housing at a high-income OECD assessment standard is currently unavailable for Australia.
CC BY

As shown here, Australia performs quite well on some indicators, but quite poorly on others. Looking at civil and political rights (in blue), Australia demonstrates high respect for the right to be free from execution, but does much worse on the rights to be free from torture and arbitrary arrest.

Our respondents often attributed this poor performance on torture and imprisonment to the treatment of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, as well as Indigenous peoples, by the Australian government.

Looking across the economic and social rights (in green), Australia shows a range of performance, doing quite well on the right to food, but performing far worse on the right to work.




Read more:
Ten things Australia can do to be a human rights hero


Freedom from torture across countries

Another way to visualise our data is to look at respect for a single right across several countries. The graph below shows, for example, overall government respect for the right to be free from torture and ill treatment in all 13 of HRMI’s pilot countries.

Government respect for the right to be free from torture, January to June 2017.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)

Here, the middle of each blue bar (marked by the small white lines) represents the average estimated level of respect for freedom from torture, while the length of the blue bars demonstrate our certainty in our estimates. For instance, we are much more certain regarding Mexico’s (MEX) low score than Brazil’s (BRA) higher score. Due to this uncertainty and the resulting overlap between the bars, there is only about a 92% chance that Brazil’s score is better than Mexico’s.

In addition to being able to say that torture is probably more prevalent in Mexico than in Brazil, and how certain we are in that comparison, we can also compare the groups of people that our respondents said were at greatest risk of torture. This information is summarised in the two word clouds below; larger words indicate that that group was selected by more survey respondents as being at risk.

These word clouds show, on the left, the attributes that place a person at risk of torture in Brazil, and on the right, attributes that place one at risk for torture in Mexico, January to June 2017, respectively.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), CC BY

There are both similarities and differences between the groups that were at highest risk in Brazil and Mexico. Based on the survey responses our human rights experts in Brazil gave us, we know that black people, those who live in favelas or quilombolas, those who live in rural or remote areas, landless rural workers, and prison inmates are largely the groups referred to by the terms “race,” “low social or economic status,” or “detainees or suspected criminals”.

On the other hand, in Mexico, imprisoned women and those suspected of involvement with organised crime are the detainees or suspected criminals that our respondents stated were at high risk of torture. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers travelling through Mexico on the way to the United States are also at risk.

The ConversationThere is much more to be learned from the visualisations and data on our website. After you have had the opportunity to explore, we would love to hear your feedback here about any aspect of our work so far. We are just getting started, and we thrive on collaboration with the wider human rights community.

K. Chad Clay, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, University of Georgia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the business model of social media giants like Facebook is incompatible with human rights



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Facebook’s actions – or inactions – facilitated breaches of privacy and human rights associated with democratic governance.
EPA/Peter DaSilva

Sarah Joseph, Monash University

Facebook has had a bad few weeks. The social media giant had to apologise for failing to protect the personal data of millions of users from being accessed by data mining company Cambridge Analytica. Outrage is brewing over its admission to spying on people via their Android phones. Its stock price plummeted, while millions deleted their accounts in disgust.

Facebook has also faced scrutiny over its failure to prevent the spread of “fake news” on its platforms, including via an apparent orchestrated Russian propaganda effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook’s actions – or inactions – facilitated breaches of privacy and human rights associated with democratic governance. But it might be that its business model – and those of its social media peers generally – is simply incompatible with human rights.

The good

In some ways, social media has been a boon for human rights – most obviously for freedom of speech.

Previously, the so-called “marketplace of ideas” was technically available to all (in “free” countries), but was in reality dominated by the elites. While all could equally exercise the right to free speech, we lacked equal voice. Gatekeepers, especially in the form of the mainstream media, largely controlled the conversation.

But today, anybody with internet access can broadcast information and opinions to the whole world. While not all will be listened to, social media is expanding the boundaries of what is said and received in public. The marketplace of ideas must effectively be bigger and broader, and more diverse.

Social media enhances the effectiveness of non-mainstream political movements, public assemblies and demonstrations, especially in countries that exercise tight controls over civil and political rights, or have very poor news sources.

Social media played a major role in co-ordinating the massive protests that brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as large revolts in Spain, Greece, Israel, South Korea, and the Occupy movement. More recently, it has facilitated the rapid growth of the #MeToo and #neveragain movements, among others.




Read more:
#MeToo is not enough: it has yet to shift the power imbalances that would bring about gender equality


The bad and the ugly

But the social media “free speech” machines can create human rights difficulties. Those newly empowered voices are not necessarily desirable voices.

The UN recently found that Facebook had been a major platform for spreading hatred against the Rohingya in Myanmar, which in turn led to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Video sharing site YouTube seems to automatically guide viewers to the fringiest versions of what they might be searching for. A search on vegetarianism might lead to veganism; jogging to ultra-marathons; Donald Trump’s popularity to white supremacist rants; and Hillary Clinton to 9/11 trutherism.

YouTube, via its algorithm’s natural and probably unintended impacts, “may be one of the most powerful radicalising instruments of the 21st century”, with all the attendant human rights abuses that might follow.

The business model and human rights

Human rights abuses might be embedded in the business model that has evolved for social media companies in their second decade.

Essentially, those models are based on the collection and use for marketing purposes of their users’ data. And the data they have is extraordinary in its profiling capacities, and in the consequent unprecedented knowledge base and potential power it grants to these private actors.

Indirect political influence is commonly exercised, even in the most credible democracies, by private bodies such as major corporations. This power can be partially constrained by “anti-trust laws” that promote competition and prevent undue market dominance.

Anti-trust measures could, for example, be used to hive off Instagram from Facebook, or YouTube from Google. But these companies’ power essentially arises from the sheer number of their users: in late 2017, Facebook was reported as having more than 2.2 billion active users. Anti-trust measures do not seek to cap the number of a company’s customers, as opposed to its acquisitions.

In late 2017, Facebook was reported as having more than 2.2 billion active users.
EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo

Power through knowledge

In 2010, Facebook conducted an experiment by randomly deploying a non-partisan “I voted” button into 61 million feeds during the US mid-term elections. That simple action led to 340,000 more votes, or about 0.14% of the US voting population. This number can swing an election. A bigger sample would lead to even more votes.

So Facebook knows how to deploy the button to sway an election, which would clearly be lamentable. However, the mere possession of that knowledge makes Facebook a political player. It now knows that button’s the political impact, the types of people it is likely to motivate, and the party that’s favoured by its deployment and non-deployment, and at what times of day.

It might seem inherently incompatible with democracy for that knowledge to be vested in a private body. Yet the retention of such data is the essence of Facebook’s ability to make money and run a viable business.




Read more:
Can Facebook influence an election result?


Microtargeting

A study has shown that a computer knows more about a person’s personality than their friends or flatmates from an analysis of 70 “likes”, and more than their family from 150 likes. From 300 likes it can outperform one’s spouse.

This enables the micro-targeting of people for marketing messages – whether those messages market a product, a political party or a cause. This is Facebook’s product, from which it generates billions of dollars. It enables extremely effective advertising and the manipulation of its users. This is so even without Cambridge Analytica’s underhanded methods.

Advertising is manipulative: that is its point. Yet it is a long bow to label all advertising as a breach of human rights.

Advertising is available to all with the means to pay. Social media micro-targeting has become another battleground where money is used to attract customers and, in the political arena, influence and mobilise voters.

While the influence of money in politics is pervasive – and probably inherently undemocratic – it seems unlikely that spending money to deploy social media to boost an electoral message is any more a breach of human rights than other overt political uses of money.

Yet the extraordinary scale and precision of its manipulative reach might justify differential treatment of social media compared to other advertising, as its manipulative political effects arguably undermine democratic choices.

As with mass data collection, perhaps it may eventually be concluded that that reach is simply incompatible with democratic and human rights.

‘Fake news’

Finally, there is the issue of the spread of misinformation.

While paid advertising may not breach human rights, “fake news” distorts and poisons democratic debate. It is one thing for millions of voters to be influenced by precisely targeted social media messages, but another for maliciously false messages to influence and manipulate millions – whether paid for or not.

In a Declaration on Fake News, several UN and regional human rights experts said fake news interfered with the right to know and receive information – part of the general right to freedom of expression.

Its mass dissemination may also distort rights to participate in public affairs. Russia and Cambridge Analytica (assuming allegations in both cases to be true) have demonstrated how social media can be “weaponised” in unanticipated ways.

Yet it is difficult to know how social media companies should deal with fake news. The suppression of fake news is the suppression of speech – a human right in itself.

The preferred solution outlined in the Declaration on Fake News is to develop technology and digital literacy to enable readers to more easily identify fake news. The human rights community seems to be trusting that the proliferation of fake news in the marketplace of ideas can be corrected with better ideas rather than censorship.

However, one cannot be complacent in assuming that “better speech” triumphs over fake news. A recent study concluded fake news on social media:

… diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.

Also, internet “bots” apparently spread true and false news at the same rate, which indicates that:

… false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

The depressing truth may be that human nature is attracted to fake stories over the more mundane true ones, often because they satisfy predetermined biases, prejudices and desires. And social media now facilitates their wildfire spread to an unprecedented degree.

Perhaps social media’s purpose – the posting and sharing of speech – cannot help but generate a distorted and tainted marketplace of fake ideas that undermine political debate and choices, and perhaps human rights.

Fake news disseminated by social media is argued to have played a role in electing Donald Trump to the presidency.
EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

What next?

It is premature to assert the very collection of massive amounts of data is irreconcilable with the right to privacy (and even rights relating to democratic governance).

Similarly, it is premature to decide that micro-targeting manipulates the political sphere beyond the bounds of democratic human rights.

Finally, it may be that better speech and corrective technology will help to undo fake news’ negative impacts: it is premature to assume that such solutions won’t work.

However, by the time such conclusions may be reached, it may be too late to do much about it. It may be an example where government regulation and international human rights law – and even business acumen and expertise – lags too far behind technological developments to appreciate their human rights dangers.

The ConversationAt the very least, we must now seriously question the business models that have emerged from the dominant social media platforms. Maybe the internet should be rewired from the grassroots, rather than be led by digital oligarchs’ business needs.

Sarah Joseph, Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ten things Australia can do to be a human rights hero



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Effective leadership requires leading by example, but Australia’s human rights record has drawn increasing criticism at home and abroad.
Andrew Hill/flickr, CC BY-ND

Carolien van Ham, UNSW; Lisa Hill, University of Adelaide, and Louise Chappell, UNSW

This article is part of the Democracy Futures project, a joint global initiative between The Conversation and the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Sunday is Human Rights Day. December 10 marks 69 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. With the 70th anniversary coming up in 2018, the UN has launched Stand Up 4 Human Rights, a year-long campaign to bring the ideals of the declaration closer to reality.

As a leader in the framing of the UN declaration and one of the world’s oldest democracies, Australia prides itself on its commitment to democracy and human rights. The Australian government has an excellent opportunity to show leadership in promoting these values at home and abroad when it takes up a seat on the UN Human Rights Council from 2018.

In this role, Australia has pledged to be “an international human rights leader” and to advance human rights with “active, practical advocacy, sensitivity and fairness, and a willingness to speak out against human rights violations and abuses”.

However, effective leadership requires leading by example, and Australia’s human rights record has drawn increasing criticism in recent years.

What can we do to strengthen our human rights framework?

We recently brought together Australian human rights scholars to answer this question. Our collection of articles in the Australian Journal of Human Rights, entitled Vanguard or laggard? Democracy and human rights in Australia, details the relationship between democracy and human rights, and provides a roadmap for improving Australia’s democratic and human rights record.

Democracy should generate protection for human rights through accountability mechanisms that work across three axes:

  • horizontal accountability refers to the role of the judiciary and integrity institutions such as the ombudsman and human rights commission

  • vertical accountability refers to elections and the participatory role of citizens

  • diagonal accountability denotes the role of free speech, media and civil society organisations in holding governments to account.

There is no clear-cut nexus between Australian democracy and human rights across these areas of accountability. And the conditions necessary for each form of accountability to operate successfully are not as strong as is generally assumed.

Accountability mechanisms are often overshadowed by parliamentary supremacy in our version of Westminster democracy. This leaves many citizens vulnerable to rights infringements.

A core weakness in Australia’s vertical accountability is the lack of an entrenched or statutory bill of rights. This leaves the executive and legislature with primary control over human rights determinations.

Voters decide who these legislators are and can change them at elections if they are unhappy with their decisions on rights issues. History suggests voters have indeed punished governments that fail to act on majority rights concerns.

However, protection for minority rights, and the rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees in particular, do not attract sufficient support at the ballot box. Not surprisingly, government policies reflect this electoral reality.

Without a bill of rights, minorities and others whose rights are threatened also have limited capacity to trigger horizontal accountability mechanisms for protection. Aside from some exceptional rulings, such as the High Court’s implied rights determinations, Australian judges have generally been reluctant to read the law broadly to incorporate rights.

Further, the Australian Human Rights Commission has a limited mandate. It is also vulnerable to funding cuts and political attacks when government perceives the commission to have overstepped its mark. These deficiencies have become more obvious in recent years with the rise of the “security state”.

Diagonal accountability mechanisms, including a free press and civil society, have been able to flourish in Australia. Even so, there are major limitations to their ability to pursue rights concerns. We have seen increasing media concentration, funding cuts to public broadcasters and the extension of legislative restrictions on civil society.

Such developments reduce the potential for these democratic actors to bring problems to light and inform governments and voters about rights issues.

Unless or until Australians decide to support greater rights protections, whether through constitutional or legislative action, these problems are likely to remain.

Fixing these problems is important. This is not only because human rights are important in themselves, but also because democracy requires a basic level of respect for human rights to function properly.

Ten things Australia can do to protect rights

With Australia becoming a member of the UN Human Rights Council, it is more important than ever that we get our own house in order, if we want to be a model for good democratic practice underpinned by a strong human rights framework.

Having secured a seat at the UN Human Rights Council, Australia needs to get its own house in order.
UN Geneva/flickr

Here’s a start: these ten broad steps are eminently doable. While not covering all the gaps, these will get us a long way toward more robust human rights protection in Australia.

1. Adopt a bill of rights

  • A bill of rights will increase the capacity of minorities and others whose rights are threatened to seek protection from the courts, if and when parliament fails to do so.

2. Protect freedom of speech

  • Reverse funding cuts to public media outlets.

  • Achieve a better balance between security laws and freedom of speech by adding public interest disclosure protections to national security laws.

3. Protect the rule of law and integrity institutions

  • Strengthen the independence of integrity institutions such as statutory officeholders (information commissioners, human rights commissioners). This includes mandating transparent, arm’s length and merit-based selection criteria for appointments to these offices. Stronger statutory guarantees of adequate funding are also needed.

4. Protect the right to vote

  • Strengthen our compulsory voting laws because of their beneficial (yet generally unrecognised) effects on human rights protection, particularly their demonstrated capacity to protect rights such as equality before the law, freedom from discrimination and equal voting power.

  • Continue to support electoral commissions in their efforts to achieve universal or near-universal electoral participation.

5. Protect freedom of association

  • Support the flourishing of civil society organisations by removing restrictive protest laws.

  • Ensure a fair and nonpartisan regulatory framework for funding civil society organisations.

6. Strengthen rights protections for Indigenous Australians

  • Dismantle the intellectual and legal framework that creates barriers to recognising and respecting Indigenous Australians.

  • Be open to Indigenous perspectives and realities and make a genuine effort to right historical wrongs.

  • Strengthen racial discrimination laws to prevent the abuse of the special measures provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act to the detriment of Indigenous Australians.

Australia must not forget that seeking asylum is a human right.
Takver/flick

7. Strengthen rights protections for asylum seekers

  • Uphold human right obligations that are owed to asylum seekers on the presumption that they may well be genuine refugees (as the 1951 Convention on Refugees that Australia has signed requires). This includes closing all offshore processing and detention centres.

  • Promote the human rights of all migrants and their families as Australia’s representatives have promised at UN meetings such as the Global Compact for Refugees and Migrants.

8. Strengthen rights protections for women

  • Improve women’s social and economic rights to enable them to participate fully and equally in Australian society. This includes closing the gender pay gap, increasing access to affordable child care and tackling the poverty facing disadvantaged women including single mothers, Indigenous women, older women, women and girls with disabilities, and women facing domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and community.

9. Strengthen rights protections for poor Australians

  • Implement a policy framework to better uphold our international commitments to protect the economic and social rights of vulnerable Australians. This includes acting on housing affordability and homelessness, protecting vulnerable workers, reducing unemployment and underemployment, and increasing support for the poorest households.

10. Implement marriage equality

  • Honour the outcome of the Marriage Law Postal Survey by legalising marriage equality.

The ConversationHappy Human Rights Day everyone.

Carolien van Ham, Lecturer in Comparative Politics, UNSW; Lisa Hill, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide, and Louise Chappell, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute, Professor Law, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

UN slams Australia’s human rights record



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The UN committee urged Australia to end offshore processing and bring the men on Manus to Australia or another safe country.
AAP

Anna Cody, UNSW and Maria Nawaz, UNSW

Last night, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its recommendations from its review of Australia’s compliance with a key human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The committee harshly criticised Australia for failures in key areas. These included the treatment of refugees, Indigenous rights and inadequate protection of human rights, including the lack of a national human rights act.

What is the UN Human Rights Committee?

This is the treaty body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee is made up of 18 independent human rights experts. Its key functions are to:

  • monitor and review state parties’ compliance with the treaty; and

  • decide complaints made by individuals against state parties.

What did the committee say about Australia’s human rights record?

The committee noted areas in which Australia’s record had improved. These included the establishment of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the introduction of protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.


Read more: With a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia must fix its record on Indigenous rights


The committee also commended Australia for its commitment to ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture.

However, concerns far outweighed improvements in human rights.

The rights of refugees

The committee widely criticised Australia’s refugee policy for breaching Australia’s human rights obligations under the convention.

It raised concerns about refoulement (the forcible return of refugees to their home countries), mandatory detention, Operation Sovereign Borders and offshore detention. This includes the recent closure of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre.

The committee urged Australia to end offshore processing and bring the men on Manus to Australia or another safe country. It emphasised the need for detention to be used to assess individual risk, not as a general deterrent. It also found that Australia has “effective control” over the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The rights of Indigenous people

The committee expressed concern about disproportionately high (27%) Indigenous incarceration rates. It recommended that measures such as mandatory sentencing and imprisonment for not paying fines be repealed.

The committee further recommended that Australia provide adequate funding to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and consider constitutional change to reflect the special status and fully protect the equal rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

As it has done before, the committee urged Australia to establish a national reparations scheme for members of the Stolen Generation.

The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

The committee roundly criticised unnecessary medical interventions on intersex people, particularly intersex infants and children. It recommended that the requirement for Family Court authorisation for second-stage hormone treatment for young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria be removed.

Barriers to gender and sex recognition on documents were also criticised.

The committee took a strong stance on the same-sex marriage postal survey. It stated that:

resort[ing] to public opinion polls to facilitate upholding rights under the Covenant in general, and equality and non-discrimination of minority groups in particular, is not an acceptable decision-making method.

The committee recommended that the Marriage Act be amended, regardless of the outcome of the postal survey.

The rights of women

The committee noted the endemic nature of violence against women, and the disproportionate impact this has on Indigenous women and women with a disability. It recommended that Australia increase its efforts to prevent all forms of violence against women.


Read more: New Home Affairs department should prompt review of Australia’s human rights performance


The committee again raised concerns about the involuntary sterilisation of women and girls with intellectual and cognitive disability, and recommended that Australia abolish this practice.

The human rights framework

As in previous reviews, the committee recommended that Australia introduce a comprehensive national human rights act to give effect to the human rights protections in the covenant.

It also recommended that federal anti-discrimination laws be strengthened to ensure effective protection against all forms of discrimination. It specifically noted the lack of federal protection against discrimination on the basis of religion.

The committee criticised previous attacks by politicians on the Australian Human Rights Commission and recommended that Australia respect the independence of that body.

Where to from here?

The release of these recommendations comes at a crucial time for Australia, which last month won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

The council is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights, and for addressing human rights violations around the world.

Council members must demonstrate their willingness to improve their domestic human rights situation. To claim legitimacy in human rights on the world stage, Australia needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights at home.

Under the committee’s follow-up procedure, Australia must explain how it will implement selected recommendations within 12 months. The committee’s selected recommendations focus on Australia’s treatment of refugees.

Australia was criticised at the review for a history of “chronic non-compliance” with committee recommendations. The challenge for Australia will be to engage positively with the recommendations and urgently implement substantive change to promote and protect human rights.

The ConversationA good starting point would be a national human rights act, to fully incorporate Australia’s international human rights obligations into law. Furthermore, Australia should reconsider its response to the Referendum Council’s recommendation of an Indigenous voice to parliament.

Anna Cody, Associate Professor and Director, Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW and Maria Nawaz, Law Reform Solicitor/Clinical Legal Supervisor, Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.