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Australia’s human rights status for international review

Rights and Freedoms
protest of young people with sign 'Listen to our voices'

The Australian Government will appear before the UN Human Rights Council this evening where it will present an update of the country’s human rights record.

It’s the third time Australia has appeared before Universal Periodic Review (UPR)— a unique process reviewing the human rights situations in all 193 UN member countries, every four-and-a-half years.

The UPR process allows the Australian community and Government to take stock of how well we are protecting and promoting the human rights of all people in Australia. 

Australia has undergone two cycles of reviews; in 2011 and 2015. Of the 290 recommendations made to Australia in 2015, approximately 11% of those supported have been fully implemented over the past four years, approximately 80% have been partly implemented and approximately 9% not implemented.

As the nation’s national human rights institution, the Australian Human Rights Commission provided a detailed assessment of the country’s human rights concerns, which can be found here.

The Commission acknowledges positive steps taken by the Australian Government since the 2nd UPR.

We welcome the passing of legislation to amend the Marriage Act 1962 (Cth) to allow same-sex couples and people with diverse sex and gender to marry. The Commission has long called for marriage equality to be realised and in 2017 this was achieved.

We also welcomed Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which allows places of detention to be inspected by independent monitors, to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Commission also commended Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which has, overall, been successful. The Commission welcomed a number of financial packages to help Australians in need, including the JobKeeper Payment, the supplement provided to JobSeeker and other allowance recipients.

The Commission continues to monitor pandemic restrictions through a human rights lens. We are concerned about some measures to control the spread of the virus, including limited transparency about decisions that may limit human rights.

Despite the improvements since the 2nd UPR, the Commission still holds significant concerns on specific issues, including;

  • Indigenous incarceration
  • age of criminal responsibility
  • the impact of gender inequality (including disadvantages to women in terms of financial status and experience of harassment)
  • discrimination against older Australians
  • detention, employment and treatment of people with disability
  • refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

The Commission is also concerned about Australia’s inadequate legal framework for implementing human rights obligations and monitoring progress.

How the UPR process works

The Council will consider three key documents in reviewing Australia;

1. National report prepared by the Australian Government

2. Stakeholder report — a compilation of reports from the Australian Human Rights Commission and NGOs

3. UN report prepared by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Based on these, other countries will make recommendations to Australia on human rights issues of concern. These recommendations and any voluntary commitments made by Australia during the review will be included in a report to the Human Rights Council. 

Before the report is adopted, Australia has the opportunity to make preliminary comments on the recommendations and identify whether it chooses to accept or reject particular recommendations. 

The report on Australia’s progress is expected to be made public on Friday, 22 January 2021 and formally adopted by the Human Rights Council in July 2021.

To learn more about the UPR process, check out this interactive infographic.

To learn more about UN human rights frameworks, check out this free online course.