Australia’s human rights record to be assessed this week

By Shannon Jenkins

January 19, 2021


United Nations member states will this week grill Australia over human rights issues as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The review involves the assessment of the extent to which all 193 UN member states fulfil their human rights obligations.

The UPR Working Group will examine Australia’s human rights record for the third time on Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council said in a statement on Friday.

The review — which will be broadcast on UN Web TV — will be based on a report provided by the Australian government, reports from human rights groups, and information provided by other stakeholders.

Attorney-General’s Department first assistant secretary Andrew Walter will lead the delegation of Australia, while Italy, the Marshall Islands and Senegal will serve as rapporteurs.

In its report to the Human Rights Council, the government said Australia has “made significant achievements in the realisation of human rights” since its last review in November 2015, including “significant investments addressing family and domestic violence, human trafficking and modern slavery and the legalisation of same-sex marriage”.

“Australia welcomes the opportunity to participate in the third cycle of the UPR and to discuss achievements and opportunities for improvement in protecting and promoting human rights,” it wrote.

Read more: National human rights charter could aid public acceptance of government decision-making processes, Law Council says

A number of member states have submitted questions to Australia ahead of the review on Wednesday, touching on a range of issues from racism, to immigration detention, and the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons.

Poland has asked what preventive measures have been taken to stop children from entering the justice system, while Germany wants to know what’s stopping Australia from raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years.

Meanwhile, Panama has asked which measures have been adopted to address the rise of expressions of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia in Australia.

The UK, on the other hand, has called on Australia to explain its plan to “work with, and listen to, Indigenous elders and leaders to provide a national voice to Parliament for Indigenous people”.

The Australian government will have a chance to express its view on any recommendations made during the review later this month.

The 37th UPR was planned to be held in November 2020, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: ‘We need to have some hard conversations’: Rosalind Croucher on human rights reform


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