What Australia Needs to Do to Fix its Human Rights Record: Universal Periodic Review

Universal Periodic Review Australia


You wouldn’t know it but earlier this year Australia’s human rights record was pored over by its peers (other countries) in the UN Human Rights Council.

Every few years countries have to report on their human rights performance at part of a process called “Universal Periodic Review”.

Here are some of the things Australia committed to in the cause of Human Rights at this year’s Universal Periodic Review:

  • to holding a referendum to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the Australian Constitution in the next term of Parliament.
  • to resettling 12,000 refugees fleeing conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq and providing humanitarian support to more than 240,000 Syrian and Iraqi people who have been forced to flee their homes or seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
  • a $100 million package of measures announced on 24 September 2015 to address family violence including $21 million for specific measures to help indigenous women and communities.
  • to improving the way the criminal justice system treats people with cognitive disability who are unfit to plead or found not guilty by reason of mental impairment.
  • to taking further steps to strengthen advocacy for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.
  • to promoting and protecting the rights of older people internationally by modelling and advocating better use of existing United Nations human rights reporting mechanisms.
  • to take steps to end unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (meaning removing exemptions for Australian state and territory laws from the implementation of national anti-discrimination laws from 31 July 2016).
  • to supporting the protection and promotion of human rights through its foreign aid programme by promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability.
  • to work with the Australian Human Rights Commission, to develop a public and accessible process for monitoring progress against universal periodic review recommendations. This will include a periodic statement on progress against the recommendations on behalf of the Government. Australia will also designate a standing national mechanism to strengthen its overall engagement with United Nations human rights reporting.

There were 175 recommendations made to Australia – given the above is a short list – most of them didn’t make it into Australia’s commitments.

  • A long list of states recommended Australia ratify or accelerate steps towards ratifying the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture.  This protocol provides international inspection of places of detention to foster the prevention of torture. (Ghana, Peru, Ukraine, Serbia, Estonia, Georgia, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Paraguay, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Albania, Azerbaijan, Benin, France, Republic of Moldova, Denmark, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Chile, Hungary, Sweden, Mozambique, Philippines).
  • States also recommended that Australia ratify the optional protocol to the Convention on Economic and Social Cultural Rights. This optional protocol establishes a mechanism for individual complaints if these rights are violated.(Italy, Portugal, Uruguay, Albania).
  • And the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • The Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. (Ratification that the HRCA has repeatedly called for).
  • Fully incorporate its international human-rights obligations into domestic law by introducing a comprehensive judicially enforceable federal Human Rights Act (Indonesia, Iceland, Turkey, Canada).
  • Many states called on Australia to improve its human rights record in respect of indigenous rights.
  • Many addressed Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Among these were calls for the release of all children in detention and ensuring refugee advocates have access to those in detention. Some called on Australia to cease its practice of offshore detention and to comply with Australia’s obligations towards asylum seekers.

Australia’s full report card at the Universal Periodic Review is found here.

Australia’s responses to the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review are found here.