CANBERRA / GENEVA (18 October 2016) – United Nations independent expert Michel Forst today called on the Government of Australia to urgently dispel civil society’s growing concerns about the combined ‘chilling effect’ of its recent laws, policies and actions constraining the rights of human rights defenders.
“I was astonished to observe mounting evidence of a range of cumulative measures that have concurrently levied enormous pressure on Australian civil society,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at the end of his first fact-finding visit* to the country.
Recognizing Australia’s traditional safeguards of constitutional democracy, rule of law and free media, Mr Forst noted that his initial expectation from his official visit was to “encounter only laudable implementation of the State’s obligations under international human rights laws, aimed at ensuring a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.”
Instead, the expert found a number of detrimental measures which include a growing body of statutory laws, both at the federal and state levels, constraining the rights of defenders. “They have ranged from intensifying secrecy laws to proliferating anti-protest laws, from the stifling Border Force Act to the ‘Standing’ bill shrinking environmental access to courts,” Mr. Forst specified.
“Those laws have not only accentuated the disparity between Government’s declared commitments at the international forums and their implementation within the country,” he noted. “They have also aggravated the situation following the drastic defunding of peak bodies by the Government, following their advocacy or litigation on such topical issues as immigration, security, environment and land rights protection.”
In his preliminary observations, the expert noted that Community Legal Centres are facing nearly one third of their budget cut nationally, and that Environmental Defenders Offices and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples have completely been defunded by the Federal Government. And those that continue receiving funds have to abide by the so-called ‘gagging’ clauses in their funding agreements, instructing them against ‘lobbying’ the Governments or to ‘engage in public campaigns’.
“In addition, I was astounded to observe what has become frequent public vilification of rights defenders by senior government officials, in a seeming attempt to discredit, intimidate and discourage them from their legitimate work. The media and business actors have contributed to stigmatization,” the Special Rapporteur warned. “Environmentalists, whistleblowers, trade unionists and individuals like doctors, teachers, and lawyers protecting the rights of refugees have borne the brunt of the verbal attacks.”
“Even the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, faced Government’s intimidation and public questioning her integrity, impartiality and judgement, after the Commission’s inquiry into the child harm in immigration detention,” the expert said.
Mr. Forst noted that “the Australian Government has historically made commendable efforts in pursuit of its human rights obligations, so it is unfortunate that the combination of the detrimental laws and practices by the Government has recently instilled a ‘chilling effect’ on the Australian civil society.”
“This situation can be reversed and improved. The Government should start re-building confidence of human rights defenders,” he said. “For that purpose, I urge the Government to consider adopting a national action plan on human rights, through meaningful consultation with civil society.”
The UN Special Rapporteur expressed his readiness for further constructive dialogue to identify ways to help ensure enabling environment for human rights defenders in Australia.
During his two-week visit, at the invitation of the Government, the expert met with vast range of federal and state officials, members of the parliament and judiciary, statutory bodies, as well as human rights defenders and representatives of civil society, media and business.
Mr. Forst will present a final report with his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in 2017.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:
GENEVA / CANBERRA (30 September 2016) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Michel Forst will visit Australia from 4 to 18 October 2016 to assess the overall environment for human rights defenders and civil society in the country.
“Experience has taught us that human rights defenders are critical to sustaining a democratic society and strengthening the rule of law,” the expert said. “The visit is a fertile opportunity for me to consult the vibrant Australian civil society about their situation and to have a focused dialogue with the Government on ways and means to support the important work of rights defenders in the country.”
The independent expert, with the global mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to assess the promotion and protection of defenders, will gather first-hand evidence on potential challenges facing civil society organisations in Australia and explore possible actions that can help enable the environment for human rights defenders.
“I look forward to the dialogue with the Government and civil society organisations to identify concrete ways of empowering human rights defenders and supporting their vital and legitimate work,” Mr. Forst said.
During the two-week visit, at the invitation of the Australian Government, the Special Rapporteur will meet with both federal and state level officials, parliamentarians, various rights commissioners and ombudsman, as well as human rights defenders and a broad range of civil society representatives from various parts of the country.
The rights expert will visit Melbourne (3-4 Oct), Sydney (5-6 Oct), Hobart (7-9 Oct), Brisbane (12-13 Oct), Darwin (14-15 Oct) and Canberra (10-11 Oct and 16-18 Oct).
The Special Rapporteur will share his preliminary findings and recommendations at a press conference on Tuesday, 18 October 2016, at 11.30 am, at the
Access to the press conference is limited to journalists.
The Special Rapporteur’s final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in a future session.
New York, 1 August – The United Kingdom, followed by Australia and the Republic of Korea, lead the world in providing government services and information through the Internet, according to a new survey released today by the United Nations showing the progress of nations in promoting e-government.
The 2016 UN E-Government Survey provides new evidence that e-government has the potential to help support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Survey finds that e-government is an effective tool for facilitating integrated policies and public service by promoting accountable and transparent institutions through open data and e-participation and participatory decision-making as well as by advancing online services to bridge the digital divides.
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
We are shocked by the video footage that has emerged from Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory in Australia, showing children as young as 10, many of whom are Aboriginal children, being held in inhumane conditions and treated cruelly. Some children were held in isolation for extended periods, sometimes for several weeks, in hot and dark cells with no access to fresh air or running water. In one incident, six children were tear-gassed by prison guards. The videos, from 2014, show another child hooded and strapped to a chair for several hours. Others are shown being repeatedly assaulted and stripped naked. According to the children’s testimony, these abuses took place over several years. Most of the children who were held at the detention facility are deeply traumatized. The treatment these children have been subjected to could amount to a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, to which Australia is a party.
Article 37 of the CRC stipulates that “every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age.”
The announcement by the Government of an investigation into youth detention in the Northern Territory is an important step. We encourage the Government to extend the scope of the investigation beyond the Northern Territory in order to establish that such appalling treatment is not taking place in any other place of detention in Australia. We call on the authorities to identify those who committed abuses against the children and to hold them responsible for such acts. The children who were abused at Don Dale should receive psychosocial rehabilitation to overcome the trauma they have suffered. Compensation should also be provided.
We also call on Australia to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. This important instrument focuses on the prevention of torture. Under the Protocol, Australia would establish a National Preventive Mechanism which conducts regular visits to all places of detention in the country. Events at Don Dale clearly show the immediate need to establish such a system of regular visits to ensure that what happened at Don Dale never happens again in Australia.
For more information and media requests, please contact please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / email@example.com )
UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic death of the refugee who sustained fatal burns during the incident at the Nauru refugee settlement last week. UNHCR had been on Nauru undertaking a monitoring mission in relation to arrangements in place for the asylum-seekers and refugees transferred from Australia, and three staff were present at the site of the incident, though the man had not been interviewed by UNHCR or doctors accompanying the mission. Continue reading
The rights of two deaf people in Australia were violated when they were called up for jury service but then told they could not have the support they needed, in the form of sign language interpretation and real-time captioning, to participate in the proceedings, UN experts have found. Continue reading