[Aboriginal News]

9 August 2010

UNITED NATIONS SPOTLIGHTS RACISM IN AUSTRALIA

This Tuesday, 10 August 2010, the Australian Government will attend a 
hearing at the United Nations in Geneva to explain some of its most 
controversial policies to an expert body on racism. The UN Committee 
on Racial Discrimination has asked Australia to provide it with 
information on how Australia is performing its legal obligations to 
respect, protect and promote the human right to equality and freedom 
from racial discrimination.

“This hearing is one place where the Australian Government is held 
accountable for laws and policies that have a negative effect on 
people of particular races,” says Emily Howie, Director Advocacy and 
Strategic Litigation at the Human Rights Law Resource Centre. “The UN 
Committee has already indicated to Australia that it will give 
priority to discussing particular issues, including the Northern 
Territory Intervention, the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees 
and the impact of counter-terror laws on Muslim communities”.

“The hearing highlights the inadequacy of Australia’s political and 
legal systems to properly protect the human rights of all people in 
Australia, particularly groups identified by their race or national or 
ethnic identity”, says Louise Edwards, Policy and Projects Officer, 
National Association of Community Legal Centres. “In a democracy, we 
like to think that the Government is held accountable for its policies 
every three years. Well that sort of accountability is of little 
comfort when you consider that both sides of politics have supported, 
and promise to continue, some of the most damaging and racist policies 
of recent times.”

A delegation of representatives from non-government organisations will 
attend the hearing, including Aboriginal elders from the Northern 
Territory whose communities are directly affected by the Intervention. 
Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, a member of the Uniting Church from 
Arnhem Land, and Rosalie Kunoth Monks, a former CLP candidate from 
Daly River (on the way to Wadeye), and former star in the film Jeddah, 
have flown to Geneva to tell the UN’s expert racism committee the 
stories of their communities. Their delegation is supported by a 
coalition of ‘concerned Australians’ with a broad-based community 
support.

“It should be a source of national shame that Aboriginal people need 
to fly to Geneva and petition the United Nations in order to seek 
justice and be free from racist laws at home. Aboriginal people should 
at least be reassured that their human rights are going to be 
supported by the international community,” says Les Malezer, 
Chairperson of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research 
Action.

After the hearing, the Committee will issue a report card on the state 
of racism in Australia and provide recommendations to the Australian 
Government for improving its laws and policies.

Graeme Innes, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, is in Geneva and 
will also attend the hearing.

 Annexure – Short Brief on Australia’s Review by the CERD Committee

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial 
Discrimination (the CERD Committee) is a body of eighteen independent 
human rights experts. One of the Committee’s function is to monitor 
race discrimination in the countries who are a party to the UN 
Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). As a 
party to that treaty, Australia is reviewed by the CERD Committee 
periodically. Australia was last reviewed by the CERD Committee in 2005.

The CERD Committee has flagged a number of key themes of race 
discrimination in Australia for discussion, including: Northern 
Territory Intervention (NTI): The NTI is of interest to the CERD 
Committee given the suspension of the primary form of legal protection 
from racist Government action, the Racial Discrimination Act, and the 
discriminatory impact of the raft of measures taken under the 
intervention. Not only are the measures taken by the Government 
stigmatising of Aboriginal people, they are a violation of fundamental 
human rights. For example, quarantining of welfare payments for 
Aboriginal people is discrimination on the basis of race in the 
enjoyment of the right to social security.

The CERD Committee has now asked the Australian Government to explain 
the recent amendments to the Northern Territory Intervention. The 
amendments have been criticised by the Australian Human Rights 
Commission, NGOs and affected Aboriginal communities as failing to 
restore rights and dignity to communities under the NTI.

Asylum seekers: Australia’s laws and policies in relation the 
mandatory detention of asylum seekers has been raised as an issue by 
CERD Committee, given their discriminatory application to the mainly 
Afghani, Sri Lankan and Chinese asylum seekers without a valid visa 
who arrive in Australia or excised territories by boat, most of whom 
are detained on Christmas Island. The Committee also seeks information 
from the Government about the singling out of Sri Lankans and Afghanis 
in the recent suspension of asylum claims, the ‘asylum freeze’ and 
their detention in the re-opened Curtin Detention Centre.

The last time Australia was reviewed by the CERD Committee, the 
Committee recommended that Australia review its policy of mandatory 
detention policy, including the continued use off shore detention. It 
is expected that the CERD Committee will again raise this issue and 
the developments since 2005 as a concern with the Australian Government.

Violence and vilification against minorities: The CERD Committee has 
asked Australia to provide evidence of measures taken to counter and 
prevent harassment, racist stereotypes and vilification of minority 
communities – especially African Australians, Indian people, Arab and 
Muslim Australians and international students. This is of interest to 
the CERD Committee in light of the weak legal framework in Australia 
for protection against racial vilification and negative portrayals of 
African, Arab and Muslim communities by the media (which has led to 
vilification) and the increased hostility and targeted violence 
against international students, particularly Indian students.

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