Australia racial discrimination violates international obligations: report

[JURIST] Amnesty International Australia (AIA) [advocacy website] on Monday criticized the Australian government [report, PDF; press release] for not taking greater measures to eliminate racial discrimination, violating its obligations under international law. The charges were made in a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [official website], the body that oversees the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [text]. According to AIA, ongoing policies and initiatives by the Australian government violate the Convention and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [text], which was endorsed by Australia last year [JURIST report]. AIA noted that the government had still not implemented legal reforms creating rights against discrimination. The rights organization cited several provisions of the Australian Constitution [text], which it claims violate Australian obligations under international law, including those allowing for Australian states to disenfranchise entire racial groups and empowering the national parliament to legislate along racial lines. According to AIA, Australian policies toward asylum seekers and refugees also violate its treaty commitments by discriminating based on national origin and allowing for the indefinite detention of undocumented and stateless persons. AIA also pointed to the continuing discrimination against indigenous peoples in its report, finding the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act (NTER) [text, PDF] to be the most pressing discriminatory policy, interfering with almost every aspect of indigenous life. AIA explained:

[T]he Government ... must reinstate full legal protections against racial discrimination. It must also put an end to any intervention measure that does not comply with the Convention. Refusing to process visa applications from asylum seekers fleeing oppression in war-torn Afghanistan is completely unacceptable. The discrimination within these procedures must be eliminated. It's up to all of our political leaders to make sure their policies comply with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
AIA also found several positive steps taken in recent years by the Australian government. These include an official apology to indigenous victims of the Stolen Generation [TIME backgrounder] and initiatives to increase indigenous health and life expectancy.

In June, the Australian government reinstated its Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) [JURIST report] in the Northern Territory. The discrimination laws were suspended by the NTER in 2007 in order to allow governmental authorities to regulate how welfare money was spent by the indigenous people of the country. Under NTER, regulators were able to intervene in indigenous areas by setting aside a portion of the welfare benefits received for rent, food and medical care in order to prevent the designated money from being spent on alcohol. The reinstatement of the RDA allows the regulation of welfare payments to remain in place, but the regulations will be applied to both indigenous and non-indigenous citizens living in the Northern Territory. The discriminatory nature of the NTER has been widely criticized. In March, UN special rapporteur James Anaya condemned the law [press release], calling it problematic from a human rights point of view.

 

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