UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit Australia
by Jeff Waters
Fri Feb 11 – The Refugee Action Coalition says Christmas Island and plans for a detention centre in East Timor are also issues which should be discussed. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights is expected to visit Australia later this year, following recent criticism of Australia’s human rights record.
Navi Pillay is scheduled to visit at the end of May, at the invitation of the Federal Government, to raise a number of as-yet-unspecified issues.
Last month a regular review of human rights by about 50 UN member nations – including allies like the United States and the UK – recommended Australia end mandatory immigration detention and improve the lives of Indigenous people. Though it is a review that all UN members are subjected to, the office of the high commissioner has received numerous complaints about Australia in recent years. Rachel Ball from the Human Rights Law Resource Centre says there are obvious issues that need to be discussed.
“We are thrilled that the High Commissioner is coming to Australia. We think that the visit will be very important in raising the profile of human rights across the country,” she said.
Ms Ball says Australia has a patchy record on human rights. “Traditionally, Australians haven’t paid all that much attention to their international human rights obligations,” she said. “We can see that through the fact that we don’t have national human rights laws and we are in fact the only developed democracy that doesn’t have those laws. The reviews that we’ve been through at the UN over the last few years have highlighted some significant problems, including in the area of refugees and particularly our practices of mandatory immigration detention. We hope that this is an issue that the high commissioner considers in the course of her visit.”
During a meeting in Geneva last year, a group of Indigenous people also raised the Northern Territory intervention with the high commissioner.
But Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition says Christmas Island and plans for a detention centre in East Timor are also issues which should be discussed. “We will be making as strong a representations as we can, not just a comment about the situation in the Australian detention centres, we’d be certainly concerned to talk to her about the proposition for the regional processing centre in East Timor and I suspect that is also a subtext of this visit,” he said.
Human rights and refugee groups say they will also use the visit to highlight the creation of a human rights act.
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