Last month, the UN Member States scrutinised the human rights record of Australia under the Universal Periodic Review process. Although Australia had accepted to implement a rather large number of recommendations during the first cycle of the UPR, it appears that it only actually implemented about 10% of these recommendations.
Asylum seekers, the central concern
About half of the recommendations made by States to Australia dealt with its treatment of asylum seekers. Several States urged Australia to find alternatives to detention in particular for vulnerable groups such as families, children and disabled asylum seekers. Australia was also recommended to close its offshore processing centres of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG. States also called on Australia to ensure the respect and strict application of the principle of non-refoulement under international refugee law. Finally, Bangladesh stated that Australia has set “a poor benchmark” in terms of asylum policy on the international scene.
Linked to the issue of detention centers, many States urged Australia to ratify the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which would enable independent international oversight of places of detention of asylum seekers.
Indigenous peoples’ rights
Serious concerns were raised by many delegations regarding indigenous peoples’ rights notably regarding violence against indigenous women, the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples, including minors, in the criminal justice system. Many recommendations were made in order to enhance indigenous peoples’ access to health, employment and education services.
Australia was urged by several States to ensure sustained funding and effective implementation of its national action plan on violence against women, especially taking into account the specific vulnerabilities of indigenous women and women with disabilities. Recommending States also invited Australia to take measures to ensure further representation of women in public life, to close the gender pay gap and also to lift its reservations to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Business and Human Rights
A few States called on the Australian Government to adopt a national action plan on business and human rights and to strengthen its legal framework for the protection of human rights in the context of violations committed by Australian enterprises in their territories and in third States.
This is indeed an important issue to tackle for the Australian government in view of serious human rights violations committed by major Australian companies notably in the mining industry.
Australia has until March 2016 to decide which recommendations to accept or reject. It is up to the international community and civil society to maintain pressure on the Australian government to ensure that recommendations are accepted and duly implemented.
WILPF Australia had advocated for these and many other issues as part of a coordinated report from Australian civil society. They will continue to monitor and demand the implementation of the UPR report.
You may watch the entire UPR review of Australia on the following link: http://webtv.un.org/watch/australia-review-23rd-session-of-universal-periodic-review/4604030505001.