On Tuesday October 17 Australia was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for a three year term, joining 14 other nations who are responsible for safeguarding human rights around the world.
A day after being elected to the council, the United Nations High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR) blasted Australia for conditions on Manus Island, declaring the detention centre an “imminent humanitarian crisis” and a "looming humanitarian emergency". The UNHCR inspected the centre in September and is calling on Australia to immediately evacuate the men from Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The centre is set to close October 31, however hundreds of refugees are still housed there. The Australian government has cut electricity and water to the centre in an effort to force the refugees into PNG, where their safety cannot be guaranteed.
Thomas Albrecht, UNHCR representative in Canberra, said “Having created the present crisis, to now abandon the same acutely vulnerable human beings would be unconscionable.” “Legally and morally, Australia cannot walk away from all those it has forcibly transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru.”
Australia’s participation in the United Nations Human Rights Council requires the government to maintain the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights and to fully cooperate with UN processes.
Just a day after the UNHRC blasted Australia, the UN Human Rights Committee criticised Australia’s human rights record, saying it “has very little to be proud of.” The committee’s Vice Chairman, Professor Yuval Shany, described Australia’s record as one of “chronic non-compliance” with human rights law and said its compliance rate was so low it was “completely off the charts."
“There seems to be a misunderstanding of the purpose of the views of the committee – they are not an invitation to respond … they are an articulation of a specific duty to take action on Australia’s obligation under the covenant,” Shany said.
“While we can accept, in some cases, delay, because changes take time especially in implementing domestic legislation, it is unacceptable for a state to almost routinely fail to implement the views of the committee and in essence challenge the expert nature of the committee.”
Committee member Sarah Cleveland took aim at the marriage equality postal survey, telling the Australian delegation that “Human rights are not to be determined by opinion poll or a popular vote.” Human Rights Legal Centre lawyer, Amy Few said “Today the UN gave Australia a grade of E - and that’s not an E for effort. The condemnation shows how far we have strayed from the promises we made to uphold the civil and political rights of Australians and people in our care.”