The Guardian • Issue #1947


Australia’s human rights record is a joke

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1947

 Last month, at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of human rights, Australian officials faced tough questions over its human rights violations. The review touched on several topics such as Australia’s border policy (including offshore processing and refusing to resettle people who arrived by boat) and the treatment of Indigenous people.

In its condemnation of Australia’s treatment of refugees, China stated that Australia needed to “protect the rights of migrants and close offshore detention centres of migrants.” China also believed that it was necessary to carry out a thorough investigation into “the war crimes committed by the Australian military overseas in military operations, pursue the responsibility of perpetrators, and prevent impunity and recurrence of similar crimes.”

North Korea ambassador Han Tae-Song echoed these comments stating Australia had to “cease cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment in public places of detention” and start the “revoking of policies and practices that result in the arbitrary and indefinite detention of persons with disabilities.”

Instead of accepting the criticism, attempts to distract from these crimes have been made by Australia’s mainstream media who prefer to play the “what about?” game on the aforementioned countries.

Socialist countries weren’t the only ones appalled. In a stunning rebuke of Australia’s human rights record, over thirty nations condemned Australia’s age of criminal responsibility which is ten years old. Among those countries were Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Poland, Portugal, and Mexico.

Perhaps even more alarming (although not surprising) than the age of criminal responsibility is who is actually in youth detention. By our delegation’s own admission, “While Indigenous Australians comprise only six per cent of young people aged between ten and seventeen, they made up approximately fifty-seven per cent of those in youth detention[.] […] This proportion rises to seventy-eight per cent for young people between the ages of ten and thirteen.”

Speaking on the universal response from the UN review, Simon Henderson, the head of policy at Save the Children Australia stated: “You cannot get a clearer message from the international community that children as young as ten should not be locked up.”

When it came to Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous communities, the message was clear: Australia is failing to comply with the most basic human rights measures.

Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser said there were no excuses for Australia’s human rights travesty given that it is “a wealthy, stable democracy.”

Given Australia’s position, de Kretser believed Australia was unable to “lead the world on human rights” but lamented that “too often Australian governments fail to respect people’s human rights in critical areas.”

In addressing these concerns, the Australian government’s submission acknowledged that it needed “to do better” to address the inequalities confronted by First Nations people.

However, this acknowledgement means nothing.

In 1992, then Prime Minister Paul Keating said, in his now-famous “Redfern Speech”: “We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice.” Yet it was his government who failed to adequately respond to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report, whose recommendations have been largely ignored.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially apologised on behalf of Australia for its mistreatment of First Nations peoples, “in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations.” Yet the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments failed to stop the rising rate of Indigenous children being removed from their homes.

And this is from “the party of the working class”! Needless to say the Coalition has treated human rights with complete contempt. As these very procedures were happening, in Trumpian fashion, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that 26th January “wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either” – mitigating the seriousness of Australia’s genocidal actions.

The international community recognises Australia’s atrocious human rights record but will not do anything serious about it. It is on us, the people, to stand up and put pressure on our own government to stop these heinous acts now!

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