Taking the risk – the battle of PNG's political strategists
Papua New Guinea and democracy – it was never going to work

Australia’s election to UN human rights council blasted

Human rights KEITH JACKSON

NOOSA –Australia’s elevation this week as one of 15 countries elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council has occurred despite strident criticism – including from the UN itself - of the country’s harsh treatment of refugees in Manus and Nauru.

A coalition of Australian organisations has accused Australia of “backsliding” on human rights, a slap in the face for a nation that once ranked in the top echelon of defenders of both individual freedom and fair and compassionate treatment of people in need.

A recent Fairfax poll showed nearly one-third of Australians believe human rights to be under threat in Australia (table) and today Australia is expected to be grilled by an expert UN committee over its human rights record.

The UN council to which Australia has just been elected is able to rebuke governments that violate human rights and order investigations.

In recent years, Australia has found itself subject to inquiries and criticism from the UN on human rights issues.

Just last month, the UN's refugee agency condemned Australia saying that “those who have suffered most under inhumane conditions in Papua New Guinea and Nauru need care and compassion….

“All refugees and asylum seekers should be provided with adequate support and a much-needed long term solution outside of Papua New Guinea and Nauru."

And the head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, slammed the Australian government for a denial of “fundamental principles of family unity and refugee protection and to common decency" in its treatment of refugees.

"The practice of offshore processing has had a hugely detrimental impact," Mr Grandi said.

World Vision’s Rev Tim Costello called on the government to close "its inhumane offshore detention centres" which he said are a "blight on Australia's international reputation.

"If we are to play a credible role in promoting human rights internationally, we need to look to our own behaviour," Mr Costello said.

"We need to do more than talk the talk on human rights, we need to walk the walk."

Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said the vast majority of asylum seekers in detention had already been found to be refugees.

"Australia owes those people obligations," he said. "We have promised to provide people fleeing persecution safety as a signatory to UN conventions, yet we have mandatorily detained them in remote camps on islands in the Pacific.

"Plus we have boat turn-backs still happening under secrecy on the high seas."

Davis StevenIn related news, PNG attorney general Davis Steven (pictured) says the government is planning to create a human rights commission.

He told the eighth PNG Human Rights Film Festival that the government recognised the challenges of not just having a constitution that enshrined the rights of people but doing something about them.

As usual with government announcements about positive reform, PNG Attitude will await progress before issuing compliments.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

William Dunlop

Chris Overland. Very well spoken indeed. Hear hear!

Philip Fitzpatrick

I certainly agree with you Chris.

However, I think what has got some people worried is that we seem to be going in reverse in some areas such as our acceptance of refugees. Compare Malcolm Fraser's approach and that of our current government for instance.

Every step backwards diminishes our credibility to speak out. So too does our silence on matters that we should really speak out about and condemn.

I think we have seen the rise of some pretty fundamental conservatives in the last four years or so and they are the people who have to be watched.

Best to keep them on their toes I reckon.

Chris Overland

While Australia has some things in its history that are not a source of pride it remains, by any reasonable standard, a veritable bastion of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

Thus, in the case of the detention of asylum seekers, the critics of this policy have been able to argue about, protest against and decry the government's alleged callousness and indifference without let or hindrance. Seldom have the opponents of a given policy had more opportunities to repeatedly condemn it.

They have not been subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, nor have they been stabbed with a poisoned umbrella, poisoned with a virulently radioactive substance dropped in their coffee or shot dead by "persons unknown" whilst walking across a bridge.

No woman has been beheaded for having the temerity to be raped or flung in prison for driving a car against the supposed law of God as it pertains to women's rights (or, more accurately, the lack thereof).

Apart from a few delusion nutters, no-one is going around plotting against or killing people because they don't share the same religious beliefs.

Similarly, the number of members of right wing neo-Nazi type movements is miniscule, as is the number of their left wing anarchist counter-parts.

Right now, Australian politician's of every stamp ruefully accept that they periodically will be the subject of condemnation, abuse and ridicule by a sometimes ill informed or just plain stupid citizenry or media.

The internet is not censored here, nor is it a crime to utter thoughts that can be construed as a " crime against the state", resulting in being banged up for a decade or two in non-salubrious accommodation.

In short, Australia stands head and shoulders above almost every other country on earth in relation to human rights.

So, well done us. We are not perfect, but we are sure as hell trying.

William Dunlop

The UN: That great den of iniquity which I observed first hand in all their inglorious ineptitude in East Timor from late 1999 on.

Peter Sandery

Perhaps I am a callous old bloke but I am afraid that after the disgraceful actions of the Australian Human Rights Commission I think we and our political betters should be far more worried about the rapidly increasing private and public debt in Australia and the lack of parliamentary accountability to the ideals of representative parliamentary democracy, than representation on a hypocritical offshoot of one of the least democratic organisations in the world.

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion Peter but readers need to know that the Australian Human Rights Commission, while making some errors of judgement, was the target of disgraceful behaviour by an Australian government (egged on by culture warriors at The Australian newspaper) seeking to defend its own appalling treatment of refugees in Manus and Nauru - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Doesn't do much for people's faith in the UN either.

If you look at Australia's co-members on the UNHRC it looks like a cabal of Dracula's running the blood bank.

Julie Bishop's argument that membership of the UNHRC will make these countries clean up their act is pathetic.

Will Australia stop treating asylum seekers so badly now it's on there? Of course not.

Peter Kranz

Australia is silent on West Papua, just as it was silent on the "act of no choice" and stifles any criticism of it's policies on Nauru and Manus.

It was also silent about East Timor for years and about Suharto's genocide in the '60's which saw hundreds of thousands murdered.

Australia being elected to the UNHRC is a joke.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)