A March 21, 2014 file image of asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea.
A March 21, 2014 file image of asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea. EOIN BLACKWELL

Australia promises UN it will boost human rights

AUSTRALIA was set to be elected uncontested to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday night amid stern criticism of its asylum policies.

The nation was competing with France and Spain for one of two seats but its election was made almost certain when Paris retracted its bid.

It comes at the end of a two-year international campaign by Australia, which has vowed to be a "pragmatic, principled and passionate” promoter of human rights.

Canberra said it would champion freedom of expression and indigenous rights and would push for the global abolition of the death penalty.

But the nation has come under fire for its asylum policies, which include turning back boats and detaining immigrants offshore.

The UN has also criticised Australia's treatment of indigenous people, who are 14 times more likely to be jailed than non-indigenous people.

The Human Rights Law Centre's director of campaigns, Tim Clarke, said in a July statement: "Australia has stubbornly rejected every single call from the UN to abandon its cruel treatment of people seeking asylum - its policies blatantly and deliberately breach international human rights law in a gruesome attempt to deter people from seeking safety in Australia.”

He described the country's asylum policies as an "elephant in the room”, adding: "The UN couldn't make it any clearer. Every expert report, every committee finding, every investigation, every time, has made it abundantly clear that Australia's refugee policies breach international law in numerous ways. There is simply no escaping this reality.

"If the Australian Government truly wants to be a human rights leader at the UN, then it must stop being a human rights laggard at home.”

A number of countries on the council have attracted criticism for their human rights records.

The countries set to be elected alongside Australia - Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico and Senegal - have also been accused of grave human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch called for the DRC's bid to be blocked, citing fighting between Congolese security forces and militia in the central Kasai region that has killed up to 5000 people and displaced 1.4 million more since August.

- Harriet Agerholm, The Independent



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