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UN review comments stun, plus urge a bill of rights

UN review comments stun,
plus urge a bill of rights

The draft report of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Australia’s civil liberties and human rights performance has been released, and it contains some clear surprises. The USA, for example, wants us to train Australia’s police better in respecting human rights!

UN review comments stun, plus urge a bill of rights

The draft report of the Universal Periodic Review – where the world gets to critique Australia’s civil liberties and human rights performance – has been released.

There are fascinating comments, observations and suggestions: see below.

Australia’s delegation, led by Senator Kate Lundy because Attorney-General Robert McClelland was too busy to attend, appeared before the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Australia during the 10th session in Geneva from 25 January to 4 April.

The formal “rapporteurs” on Australia’s performance were Djibouti, France and Slovakia…called, in UN-speak, the “troika”. But neither the troika, nor the fuller working group of nations, take responsibility for the final report. All conclusions “reflect the position of the submitting States”, the report says.

While there will probably be minor tweaks to the text, the majority of the draft will see it through to release as a final report. And what fascinating comments, from unlikely quarters in some cases, have been made.

Iran is concerned about stun gun use in Australia;

  • Timor Leste, Canada, the Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Norway all want us to enact a bill of rights; and
  • the USA wants us to improve the human rights training of our police!

Here’s a selection of critiques:


26.      The Islamic Republic of Iran stated that it was deeply concerned by the increasing gap in the standards and quality of life between indigenous and non-indigenous people. Iran expressed concern, inter alia, with the use of force by law enforcement officials and the use of “Tasers” by the police; and reported sub-standard prison conditions as well as persistent problems leading to the death of indigenous people in custody and disproportionate incarceration rates.

66.      New Zealand stated that an independent mechanism to monitor compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child would assist in improving the welfare of vulnerable children. There was no federal law prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Independent inspection of custodial facilities would provide assurances that custodial treatment was humane and appropriate. New Zealand stated that Coronial investigation of deaths in custody, while contributing to an understanding of the causes of these deaths, was not adequate for prevention.

84.      Norway raised concerns about the reported high level of violence against women, particularly in indigenous communities. It welcomed the 2008 National Human Rights Consultation as well as Australia’s national apology to indigenous peoples, the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act and support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenouse Peoples (DRIP). It noted that a Human Rights Act had not yet been adopted and reports of discrimination and socio-economic disadvantage of indigenous peoples.

Some “conclusions and/or recommendations”:

Detention centres

86.5.   Ensure the establishment of an independent supervision mechanism which would have access to all detention centres with a view to facilitating the prompt ratification of OP-CAT, the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (Mexico);

Human rights

86.21. Strengthen its (Australia’s) human rights framework by establishing a comprehensive legislative scheme for all human rights (Timor-Leste);

86.22. Consider a comprehensive Human Rights Act as recommended by the National Human Rights Consultative Committee (Canada); Incorporate its international human rights obligations into domestic law by elaborating a comprehensive, judicially enforceable Human Rights Act to ensure legislative protection of human rights (Ukraine); Fully incorporate its international human rights obligations in domestic law through the adoption of a comprehensive justiciable law on human rights (Russian Federation);  Implement a federal human rights act to maximize all Australian’s legal human rights protection in accordance with Australia’s international obligations (Norway);

NT Intervention

86.25. Consider reinstating, without qualification, the Racial Discrimination Act into the arrangements under the Northern Territory Emergency Response and any subsequent arrangement (Canada);

Same-sex marriage

86.69. Take measures to ensure consistency and equality across individual States in recognising same-sex relationships (United Kingdom);

86.70. Amend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex partners to marry and to recognize same-sex marriages from overseas (Norway);

Stun guns

86.88. Take effective legal measures to prohibit the use of excessive force and “Tasers” by the police against various groups of peoples (Islamic Republic of Iran);

Indigenous in jails

86.93. Implement measures in order to address the factors leading to an overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities in the prison population (Austria);

86.94. Examine possibilities to increase the use of non-custodial measures (Austria);

86.95. Enhance the contacts and communication between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities and representatives of the law enforcement officials and enhance the training of those officials with respect to cultural specificities of the above communities (Austria);


86.96. Improve the human rights elements of its training for law enforcement personnel (United States);

Anti-terror laws

86.137.Carry out a review of all 50 newly adopted laws since 2001 on combating terrorism, and of their application in practice so as to check their compliance with Australia’s human rights obligations (Russian Federation);

The report caters for deniability by the UN HRC: “All conclusions and/or recommendations contained in the present report reflect the position of the submitting State(s) and/or the State under review. They should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole.”

Australia’s commitments:

Here is what Australia committed to, as “voluntary pledges and commitments”:

The Australian delegation “took the opportunity to announce a number of new commitments from the Australian Government”, including:

  • funding for the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Asia Pacific Forum,
  • the establishment of a full-time Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission,
  • a commitment to tabling in Parliament concluding observations from treaty bodies and UPR recommendations, and
  • instituting a systematic process for review of Australia’s reservations to human rights treaties.

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