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UN man slams NT intervention

UN man slams NT intervention

It’s official! The UN says that the Rudd Government is acting in a racially discriminating manner and breaching international human rights obligations with its NT intervention. So says James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur, in his Advance report.

NT intervention causes anguish to Indigenous Australian women

The Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) is continuing to tear at the hearts and souls of Indigenous Australians, particularly women, a special UN investigator has found.

In the advance version of his full report on a formal inspection visit in August 2009, the UN’s special investigator, James Inaya, says:

“…numerous women…expressed anguish over not just the immediate impacts of various aspects of the NTER, but also about a deepening sense of indignity and stigmatization that is brought about by the entire scheme.”

The full report will present the observations of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people in the NT.

It was clear that the NTER measures involved racial discrimination, Mr Anaya said. “Aspects of the NTER as currently configured are racially discriminatory and incompatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations.”

He said concerns included compulsory income management as well as other provisions of the NTER, such as:

  • compulsorily acquiring five-year leases of lands across 64 communities;
  • taking control of town camps held by people under lease in perpetuity;
  • preventing Aboriginal communities negotiating with mining companies;
  • intervening in the representative Aboriginal community councils and associations;
  • compulsory income management involving severe limitations on monies received;
  • bans on drinking and watching porn videos;
  • actively ignoring indigenous customary law or cultural practice in court cases and sentencing; and
  • employing hidden powers and secret tactics to collect information on people.

“The Special Rapporteur cannot avoid observing that, on their face, these measures involve racial discrimination. Limitations on rights should exist only on the basis of the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned,” Mr Anaya said.

Worse, CLA says, the discrimination is now starting to be enforced in reverse by the Australian Government. In replying to the Anaya criticisms, the Rudd Government said:

“The Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) special law enforcement powers will be amended to make it clear that these powers are in relation to serious violence or child abuse committed against an Indigenous person, which is a change from the existing provision which applies to serious violence or child abuse by or against, or involving, an Indigenous person.” (emphasis in original)

This means there will be different laws for violence against Indigenous people and children than there are for non-Indigenous people and children. It is entirely unclear to CLA why violence or child abuse should be treated differently in different places, depending on which colour Australian the offence is committed against.

Once a government starts down a slope of enacting inappropriate laws, the slope only gets steeper and the laws more inequitable over time.

The government was given an advance copy of the report to comment on, and comments at length. The response of Mr Anaya to the government’s comments is telling:

“The Special Rapporteur observes that in its response the Government does not specifically express disagreement with the conclusion that the NTER as currently configured is racially discriminatory and incompatible with Australia’s
international human rights obligations under the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination and other international instruments.” 

He goes on to say that he is also aware of significant criticisms against the very consultative process that the Government now contends meets the standard of free, prior and informed consent. “Thus, open to question is the extent to which the Government’s proposed NTER reforms can indeed be said to count on broad support among the affected indigenous people,” Mr Anaya says.

In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur reiterates the need to fully purge the NTER of its racially discriminatory character and conform it to relevant international standards, through a process genuinely driven by the voices of the affected indigenous people. 


United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and
fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya:

February 2010, Advance Version  (This document will be published as an appendix to the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Australia).

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