Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission: Annual Report 2002 - 2003
9: International Activities
In 2002–03, as in past years, the Commission
participated in some bilateral international program activities, generally
as part of the Australian Government’s development cooperation program
developed by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
The Commission’s international program role arises
due to the expertise the Commission has developed in pursuit of its domestic
mandate. The Commission also holds the belief that the strengthening of
human rights protection and development everywhere ensures the enhancement
of human rights activities and awareness anywhere, including Australia.
In some cases regional countries wish to access this expertise in pursuit
of their own human rights objectives, while in other cases the Australian
Government wishes to use the expertise in pursuit of its development cooperation
objectives. To respond to all requests for program activities could potentially
distract the Commission from its primary domestic mandate. It therefore
participates only when a number of pre-requisites are satisfied, including:
all of the Commission’s costs are met; the program is clearly capable
of achieving its goals, and; it does not detract in any way from the Commission’s
The Commission’s most substantial international
program involvement is with the China-Australia Human Rights Technical
Cooperation Program (HRTC), which is an integral part of the annual Dialogue
on Human Rights with China. The Commission participated in this year’s
Dialogue meetings held in Canberra on 13–14 August 2002.
The HRTC program encompasses three principal themes:
protection of the rights of women and children, protection of ethnic minority
rights, and; reform of the legal system. Each year HRTC undertakes a series
of activities intended to assist China to promote and protect human rights.
In 2002–03, the program included providing scholarships for Chinese
officials to study human rights in Australia and workshops on subjects
such as measures to combat trafficking in women and children. The Commission
has hosted visits to Australia by Chinese officials working in areas relevant
to human rights protection to work with their Australian counterparts.
This has included Chinese judges, officials of the prison system and officials
involved in development of educational policies for minority groups. The
project supported the translation into Chinese and subsequent publication
of four seminal texts dealing with mass communication and the right to
freedom of expression.
The 2002–03 HRTC was affected by Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which resulted in some activities being postponed
at the request of the Chinese authorities. Those activities, which involve
workshops with Chinese judges and prosecutors, have since been re-scheduled
to later in 2003.
The program has had an immediate impact on the formulation
of administrative procedures. In the longer term the program aims to have
an impact through increasing the level of knowledge of human rights concepts,
with a resultant impact on the formulation of Chinese policies and practices.
The program therefore seeks to work with the Chinese authorities to demonstrate
the value of institutionalising the regard for human rights and to then
work with those authorities to formulate and implement practical strategies
to realise that value.
During 2002–03 the Commission continued to work
with the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komisi Nasional
Hak Asasi Manusia, commonly known as Komnas HAM), although the formal
program of cooperation concluded in May 2002.
The Commission hosted a visit by the newly-appointed
Secretary-General of Komnas HAM in December 2002. In June 2003, Commission
staff visited Jakarta to provide input into the development of Komnas
HAM’s long-term cooperation plan.
The Commission continued its assistance to the South
African Commission on Gender Equality. This year’s program focused
mainly on initiatives to strengthen the organisation’s capacity
to manage sex discrimination complaints and undertake policy development
work on sex discrimination issues.
The Commission participated in the second session of
the annual Australia-Vietnam Dialogue on International Organisations and
Legal Issues, held in Canberra on 27 June 2003. The Dialogue included
discussion of human rights issues. As part of the Dialogue, the Commission
hosted a study visit by officials of the Government of Vietnam on 29 June
– 4 July 2003. The study visit examined Australian systems for the
protection of human rights and their relevance to Vietnamese priorities
and explored options for a longer term program of technical cooperation.
The Commission participated in the inaugural session
of the Iran-Australia Human Rights Dialogue, held in Tehran on 8–10
December 2002. As part of the Dialogue, the Commission will host a visit
to Australia on 9–17 August 2003 by officials of the Islamic Human
Rights Commission of Iran.
The Commission has worked with other countries on a
small scale, generally in the technical areas of human rights protection.
For instance, officials of the Commission have worked with the Government
of Uganda to develop its capacity to conduct national human rights inquiries
and with the Government of Indonesia to develop its capacity to implement
ILO Convention 111 (guaranteeing equality in employment).
In addition to these bilateral programs, during 2002–03
the Commission participated in the preparatory stages of a project of
regional cooperation to prevent trafficking in people, involving a number
of countries in South East Asia. The initial stages included a consultation
and design visit by the project team to countries in the region.