17.10.2017

Australia plans bold UN human rights agenda; White House says ‘hang them all’


Australia will serve a three-year term on the 47-member Human Rights Council following an overnight vote at the United Nations, taking up the seat from 2018.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement this morning that it was in our national interest to shape the work of the council and uphold the international rules-based order, leading to a safer and more secure world.

“We will bring to the Council the same principled, pragmatic and consultative approach that distinguished our term on the UN Security Council in 2013-14. Australia will provide a unique Indo-Pacific perspective and ensure that the voices of our Pacific neighbours and other small states are heard.

“During our term on the Human Rights Council, we will focus on five key areas: gender equality, freedom of expression, good governance and robust democratic institutions, human rights for indigenous peoples and strong national human rights institutions. Through an emphasis on these issues, we can advance human rights in practical, sensible ways that will have far-reaching systematic effects over time.

“Australia will also continue to advocate the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, freedom of religion and belief, the rights of persons with a disability and the rights of LGBTI communities.”

Death penalty splits allies

But Australia is likely to find its agenda stymied by one its most important allies. The United States of America is also a member of the council, alongside some of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Qatar.

The US recently stood by its support for the death penalty, voting against a high profile motion that included condemnation of punishments for gay sex. It did so due to fears it could lead to banning executions in the US. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said:

“We voted against that resolution because of broader concerns about the resolution’s approach to condemning the death penalty in all circumstances; and, it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether.”

“We had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the positions of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully, as the United States does.

“The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy. We do not consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization.”

The White House undermined that statement just days later, with a revealing jab at the vice president’s past public support for criminalising homosexuality: