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Working in the international arena to improve human rights - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Working in the international arena to improve human rights

Human rights technical cooperation

Australia operates bilateral human rights technical cooperation programs with the Governments of China and Vietnam. These programs are funded by AusAID and managed by the Commission on behalf of the Australian Government.

The China-Australia Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program aims to strengthen the administration, promotion and protection of human rights in China in the areas of legal reform, women’s and children’s rights, and ethnic and minority rights.

A total of 22 activities were carried out in 2010-11, including seminars, study visits, training workshops and internships. They addressed issues such as community corrections, judicial sentencing, domestic violence, family planning, cultural diversity, workers’ rights and vulnerable citizens, among others.

The Vietnam-Australia Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program aims to contribute to reduced poverty and sustainable development by helping strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Vietnam.

Phase 3 of the program began in January 2010 and continued during 2010-2011. Activities included the establishment of grass roots ‘women’s legal clubs’ in three target provinces, seminars on access to justice and a study visit to Australia examining mechanisms for human rights protection. Fifteen of the 17 activities included under Phase 3 have now been completed.

AusAID undertook a formal review of both human rights technical cooperation programs during 2010-11, as required every four years.

International human rights review of Australia

Addressing racism, tackling violence against women and children and advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples were some of the key recommendations made to Australia following a review of the country’s human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

On 27 January 2011, Australia took part in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a new process which involves all 192 Member States of the United Nations every four years.

In the lead-up to Australia’s UPR appearance, and following extensive consultations with government and civil society, the Commission provided an independent submission to the Council on a number of critical human rights issues.

The Report of the UPR Working Group set out 145 recommendations for consideration by the Australian Government. The Commission was pleased to provide feedback to the Government on these recommendations.

In June 2011, we welcomed the Government’s response to accept, or accept in part, more than 90% of these recommendations and to report back to the Council within two years on progress taken to implement them.

These recommendations will also be incorporated into Australia’s National Action Plan on Human Rights.

However, we were disappointed that the Government rejected certain key recommendations, such as overturning the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, introducing a Human Rights Act and compensating members of the Stolen Generations.

UN meetings

During the year, the Commission participated in meetings and reviews conducted by a range of United Nations bodies, including:

  • the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (July 2010)
  • the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (August 2010)
  • the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (22 February – 4 March 2011).

We also attended and supported the participation of the Indigenous Peoples Organisations Network in meetings of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (April 2011) and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (July 2010).

Working with national human rights institutions

International and regional meetings of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) provide a valuable opportunity to share information, ideas and examples of good practice in addressing human rights violations.

During 2010-11, the Commission:

  • participated in the 15th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (Bali, August 2010), as well as regional workshops on issues of shared concern
  • took part in the 10th International Conference of National Human Rights Institutions (Edinburgh, October 2010)
  • hosted the annual Australia and New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable (Canberra, 10 November 2010), which involved representatives from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, Australia’s state and territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity commissions, community organisations and academics
  • attended the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (London, May 2011), where we were elected Chair for the next two years.

In May 2011, the Commission sought re-accreditation with the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC). The result of our application will be made public in August 2011.

We also supported the ICC’s successful advocacy to increase participation opportunities for NHRIs in the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Assisting disability organisations in the Pacific

During the year, the Commission held three workshops – in Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Nauru – to conclude a major training program to support disabled people’s organisations and governments in the Pacific.

The program was funded by AusAID and conducted in partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum.

We also produced two DVD training resources, which were launched in April 2011 and distributed across the Pacific.