Human rights, Australia’s international reputation, and our new PM
While not surprising, it was nevertheless deeply troubling to learn that the Australian Government under Malcolm Turnbull’s new leadership will not facilitate UN access to the Australian funded detention centres on Nauru or Manus Island, nor guarantee that individuals who have had access to these centres and who provide information about them to the UN will be protected from prosecution – and possible imprisonment – under the Australian Border Force Act 2015. As a result, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Francois Crépeau, has cancelled his planned visit.
For the moment, Mr Turnbull continues to defend the indefensible by supporting the camps on Nauru and Manus Island, and mandatory immigration detention for certain classes of people (mostly asylum seekers who arrive by boat). But he has distinguished himself from former PM, Tony Abbott, by reaffirming Australia’s desire to be seen internationally as a country committed to human rights.
Mr Turnbull has reversed Mr Abbott’s instructions to Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop to jettison Australia’s bid for a place on the UN Human Rights Council. Australia’s bid is much more likely to garner support with Mr Turnbull as PM. Mr Abbott gained international notoriety for his dismissive attitude towards UN human rights mechanisms. Nor would it have gone unnoticed that while Australia consistently exhorts other countries to strengthen their human rights institutions (we regularly sponsor Human Rights Council resolutions in support of National Human Rights Institutions), Mr Abbott pilloried our own Australian Human Rights Commission and chief Commissioner Gillian Triggs. As a Minister in Mr Abbott’s Government, Mr Turnbull defended Professor Triggs.
Mr Turnbull is perceived internationally as more open to co-operative action on climate change than Mr Abbott, but his recognition that a country’s attitude to human rights protection influences its international reputation was another reason for the surprisingly warm welcome that greeted Australia’s delegation to the UN General Assembly in New York this week.
Festival of International Law
The CIGJ’s festival of international law begins next week, examining the relationship between Palestine and Israel, and continues the following week, exploring new directions in international law. Don’t forget to register! (just follow the links)