Rights and Freedoms
by HREOC at the 59th Session of the Commission on Human Rights,
Geneva 14-17 April 2003
National Institutions and Regional Arrangements Full statement from Australian
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
- The Australian
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is one of the oldest national
human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific Region. It is a national
institution accredited as complying with the Paris Principles on independent
national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights
adopted by the General Assembly in 1993. It is a founding member and
a strong supporter of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights
- In line with the
objective of the APF "to expand mutual support, co-operation and joint
activity among member institutions" the Australian Commission is currently
engaged in a staff exchange program with the Malaysian Human Rights
Commission (SUHAKAM). Through programs such as this, which transfer
specialist skills and knowledge between APF member institutions, institutional
capacity to promote and protect human rights in the Asia Pacific Region
is strengthened. Similarly, in the past year the Australian Commission
completed a four year program of cooperation with the Indonesian Commission
on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) which involved the provision of training
- In the regional
context the Commission's most substantial international program involvement
is with the China-Australia Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program.
This is an integral part of the Australian Government's annual Dialogue
on Human Rights with China. This program principally addresses the protection
of the rights of women and children, ethnic minorities and reform of
the legal system.
- The Australian
Commission is currently participating in regional consultations on the
development through the United Nations of a comprehensive international
convention to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
In that context I believe it is significant to note that last month
marked the 10th anniversary of the Australian Disability Discrimination
Act (DDA). As acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner I am particularly
proud of the Commission's role in the many achievements in those 10
years in redressing disability discrimination. Thousands of disability
discrimination complaints made to the Commission have been dealt with.
Nationwide standards for accessible public transport have been adopted
and widely implemented. Telecommunications access has improved for deaf
people and other people with disabilities. Negotiations on standards
for improved access to buildings and education are in the final stages.
There has been widespread adoption by the banking and financial service
industry of standards for disability access. And hundreds of service
providers, particularly local governments and universities, have developed
voluntary action plans for improved disability access.
- National human
rights institutions can play a valuable role in promoting community
harmony in times of international discord. The Australian Commission
has initiated a project aimed at eliminating prejudice against Arab
and Muslim Australians. 'Isma - Listen: national consultations on
eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians' aims
to strengthen harmony in the Australian community at a time when negative
feelings against these groups may be expected to escalate.
- In response to
the increasing prevalence of racial vilification on the internet the
Australian Commission recently convened a Symposium on Cyber-racism.
The Symposium was attended by the information technology industry and
regulatory agency representatives as well as academics and racial equality
groups. It explored various means of limiting racially offensive material
on the internet, some of which the Commission will take responsibility
- In the domestic
context, a strong and independent national human rights institution
firmly grounded in the Paris Principles provides an important safeguard
for the protection of human rights and acts as an effective agent in
the promotion of human rights. The human rights of children require
- The Commission
is currently completing an extensive inquiry into the welfare of children
in immigration detention. It is looking into the adequacy and appropriateness
of Australia's treatment of child asylum seekers and the additional
measures and safeguards required to protect the human rights and best
interests of these children. The inquiry will report to the Australian
Parliament in 2003.
the systemic disadvantage suffered by women over the course of their
lives because of their reproductive role, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner
has published a paper entitled, A Time to Value: Proposal for a national
scheme of paid maternity leave. The paper proposes a national scheme
of paid maternity leave that is entirely government funded and available
to women in paid work at the time of the birth of a child. The paper
is under consideration by the government in the budgetary context.
- The independence
of the Australian Commission is particularly underpinned by its function
of assisting the courts in cases involving issues of human rights. The
exercise of this function is subject only to obtaining the leave of
the court concerned. In the past year the Australian Commission has
assisted a variety of courts in relation to a broad range of human rights
- In closing I
note that the Australian Commission remains strongly committed to its
education function. As the President of the Commission, Professor Alice
Tay has recently said, the aim of the Commission's human rights education
program is to impart information, develop capacities, cultivate habits
and imagination, inculcate a critical approach and teach care and understanding.
In this context the Commission has embarked on a number of educational
programs aimed at key sectors of the community, the principal message
being that the elimination of discrimination and harassment are prerequisites
for the enjoyment of human rights by all Australians.
here to access the statement as delivered by Dr Sev Ozdowski at the 59th
Session of the Commission on Human Rights, GenevaLast
updated 30 April 2003