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59th Session of the Commission on Human Rights

Rights Rights and Freedoms

Full Statement
by HREOC at the 59th Session of the Commission on Human Rights,
Geneva 14-17 April 2003

Item 18(b):
National Institutions and Regional Arrangements Full statement from Australian
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

  1. 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
    Institutions (AFP).
  2. 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
    and support.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
    for pursuing.
  7. 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
    special attention.
  8. 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.
  9. Acknowledging
    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.
  10. 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
    related issues.
  11. 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, Geneva
updated 30 April 2003

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