Australia to Appear Before UN Rights Council in January

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Friday, September 28, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. 

© 2018 Frank Franklin II/ AP Photo

(Sydney)– The Australian government has failed to meet important commitments to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and Indigenous peoples, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Australia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) has been rescheduled from November 2020 to January 25, 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Australian government hasn’t always followed through on its pledges to the UN Human Rights Council,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “During the review, UN member countries should remind the Australian government that it needs to do much better, especially in safeguarding the basic rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and Indigenous people.”

Under the UPR mechanism, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva reviews each UN member country’s human rights record every five years. During the previous cycle, in 2015, Australia accepted numerous recommendations, including to take steps to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, reduce incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and ensure national security and counterterrorism legislation is subject to strict safeguards to prevent a chilling effect on free expression and overreach. However, the government has failed to show progress on these key issues.

During the previous cycle, Australia supported numerous recommendations to review its immigration laws and policies to ensure compliance with its international obligations. However, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous abuses against asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, especially for those forcibly transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Indigenous Australians remain significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system, often for minor offenses like unpaid fines. Death in custody of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners remains a pervasive problem despite the government’s commitment at the 2015 UPR to address high mortality rates in prisons.