The United Nations system in Papua New Guinea is gravely concerned by recent reports of human rights violations against asylum seekers on Manus Island. We note the reports of severe beating of two refugees allegedly by police and immigration officers on the 31st of December 2016, and the arrest and detention of one individual by the police on 13th of January 2017 apparently without charges being brought against the individual.
(31 October 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, will visit Australia from 1 to 18 November 2016 to assess the migration programmes, policies and laws developed by the Australian authorities in recent years.
“This is an opportunity for me to understand how Australia manages its overall migration policies, and their impact on the human rights of migrants,’’ Mr. Crépeau said announcing his first information-gathering mission to the country following the postponement of his visit last year.
During his 18-day visit to Australia, the independent expert will meet with a range of government officials responsible for border management, civil society, trade unions, the Australian National Human Rights Commission, international organisations, and migrants themselves, to discuss the complex management of Australia’s borders.
Mr. Crépeau will carry out his meetings in Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, and in on-shore detention centres and the off-shore detention centres in the neighbouring island Republic of Nauru.
At the end of the mission, the UN Special Rapporteur will share his preliminary conclusions at a press conference on 18 November 2016 at 10:30am, at the UN Information Centre, Level 1, 7 National Circuit Barton, Canberra. Access to the press conference is strictly limited to journalists.
The country mission report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.
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:
12 October 2016
On 23 September 2016, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Pacific Island Forum leaders and the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.
President Peter Christian of the Federated States of Micronesia outlined the outcomes of the 47th Summit of the Pacific Islands Forum held in Micronesia from 7 to 11 September. He highlighted the discussion on the sustainable development, management and conservation of the oceans and its resources, human rights, the welfare of Small Island Developing States in combating climate change and the many challenges that the Pacific region faces.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked the leaders for their intention to boost the partnership between the Pacific and the United Nations. He emphasized the role of the Pacific in forging agreement on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement.
GENEVA (7 October 2016) – The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has published its findings on the following countries which it examined during its latest session from 13 to 30 September in Geneva: Nauru, Sierra Leone, New Zealand, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Suriname.
The findings cover how the respective State is doing with regard to children’s rights, detailing positive developments, main areas of concern, and recommendations for action. The findings, officially known as concluding observations, can be found here
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 / GENEVA (19 September 2016) – In many countries, defenders of moral values are being outflanked by race-baiting bigots, who seek to gain power by wielding prejudice and deceit at the expense of the most vulnerable, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told Monday’s UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York.
Full text of speech:
Distinguished presidents, Secretary-General, Excellencies, This should not be a comfortable summit. While the leadership of the Secretary-General, and his fine report, should be acknowledged by all – as well as the admirable efforts by Ireland and Jordan to achieve political consensus – this summit cannot be reduced to speeches and feel-good interviews, a dash of self-congratulation and we move on.
In a wide-ranging opening speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein sheds a light on “preventable calamities” and worrying trends in human rights around the world, including detailed concerns about the situation in more than 50 countries. Continue reading