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59th Session of the Commission on Human 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.

Click 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