Australia’s International Human Rights Obligations
Australia is a party to the seven key international human rights treaties. Australia has signed and ratified:
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR),
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT),
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD),
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW)
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Australia has also signed and/or ratified a number of optional protocols to these treaties. For example:
Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
These treaties, which Australia has voluntarily entered in, set out in clear terms Australia's international human rights obligations. Under international law, Australia is bound to comply with their provisions and to implement them domestically.
The Law Council uses these instruments to evaluate Australia's human rights performance, particularly when assessing the appropriateness of proposed legislative or policy reforms.
The Law Council strongly encourages the Australian Government to follow up in a timely and effective manner to concluding observations and recommendations of United Nations Human Rights Council and international human rights treaty bodies, in accordance with relevant reporting guidelines and with the participation of human rights and civil society organisations.
The Law Council holds special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This status enhances the Law Council’s ability to engage with and contribute to the work of the United Nations Committees and bodies, and supports the Law Council’s advocacy directed at ensuring Australia complies with its obligations under international law.
Universal Periodic Review
Established in 2006, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council which reviews the human rights records of all 192 United Nations Member States. The Law Council has actively participated in the development of the documents submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of this process, including by making submissions to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Australian Government and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
Second Cycle of the UPR in November 2015
Australia was reviewed for the second time under the UPR on 9 November 2015. On 23 March 2015, the Law Council made a submission the OHCHR. The Law Council’s submission focuses on what it considers are the most pertinent rule of law issues in Australia: equality, freedom from arbitrary detention, fair hearing rights and democratic freedoms.
The Law Council was referred to 19 times in the UPR NGO/ NHRI compilation Report, including in respect of withdrawing reservations to international conventions, administration of justice and the rule of law, Indigenous peoples and migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. This is one of three Reports considered by the UPR Working Group in assessing Australia’s human rights record. This Report is compiled by the OHCHR and consists of information from civil society and national human rights institutions, such as the AHRC. There were 16 individual NGO submissions and five joint/ coalition NGO submissions. The AHRC also made a submission.
The other two Reports considered by the Working Group in its assessment of Australia’s human rights record are Australia’s own report, and another Report compiled by OHCHR which summarises Australia’s interaction with UN human rights processes.
The Australian Government submitted its report to the UN in August 2015. In its Report it stated that Australia has accepted or accepted-in-part 137 of 145 recommendations from the First UPR, and that it has implemented in whole or part, or is progressing implementation of 130 recommendations. However, in its own Report on the Second UPR, the Australian Human Rights Commission stated that of the 145 recommendations made to Australia in 2011, 10% of those accepted (in whole or in part) have been fully implemented over the past four years and a further 62% have been partially implemented.
The Review on 9 November took place in the UPR Working Group’s 23rd session. The Hon Philip Ruddock MP (as Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights), Senator Anne McEwen and the President of the AHRC, Professor Gillian Triggs, were in attendance.
During the Review, UN Member States posed questions, made comments and made recommendations to Australia.
The Australian Government noted the following voluntary commitments in respect of human rights:
1. Holding a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders in the next term of Parliament, including a national consultation process
2. Resettling 12,000 refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq, and providing a further $44m in aid to assist those displaced by this conflict
3. A $100m package for combatting family violence against women and children
4. Improving the way the criminal justice system treats people with cognitive disability who are unfit to plead or plead not guilty due to their impairment
5. Further steps to strengthen advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty, which will be informed by the outcomes of a Parliamentary Inquiry
6. Promoting and protecting the rights of older people internationally
7. Ending unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status under Australian law
8. Supporting the protection and promotion of human rights through foreign aid, including by: advancing the Sustainable Development Goals agenda; the ‘Development for All’ Strategy 2015-20; and the ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Strategy 2015-19
9. Working with the AHRC to develop a public and accessible process for monitoring Australia’s progress against UPR recommendations, including periodic statements from Government; and designating a standing mechanism to strengthen Australia’s engagement with UN human rights reporting
The Australian Government also noted that the Government did not consider it necessary to enact a Human Rights Act or amend the Constitution, owing to the existing protections, including the requirement that news bills are accompanied by a statement of compatibility with human rights.
Further information on Australia’s second cycle, including the UPR Working Group’s final Report, can be found at the OHCHR website.
First Cycle of the UPR in January 2011
Australia was first reviewed under UPR on 27 January 2011. Following Australia's review, a number of recommendations were made to improve Australia's international human rights performance. In June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council released the Australian Government's response to the recommendations. The Government's response to the full list of recommendations, as well as the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Australia is available at the OHCHR website.