Australia: member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (2018-2020)

On 16 October, in New York, the General Assembly elected Australia to serve on the Human Rights Council, the United Nations body responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.  Our inaugural membership reflects our commitment to the aims and purposes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the ongoing promotion and protection of human rights.

Australia was a founding member of the United Nations – we have been an advocate ever since for the purposes and principles of the UN Charter which support human rights.

For over 70 years, we have continued to advocate for these principles, remaining an international human rights leader. Australia has been a champion of the principle that all states be treated equally, no matter their size.

We stand by these principles today, especially in the context of advancing human rights in the Indo-Pacific region.

This commitment reflects national values that are deeply embedded in Australian society and our respect for democracy and the rule of law.  It also underpins the way we have always engaged with the international community – with active, practical advocacy, sensitivity and fairness, and a willingness to speak out against human rights violations and abuses.

Australia's membership is built around five pillars:

  • gender equality
  • good governance
  • freedom of expression
  • the rights of indigenous peoples
  • strong national human rights institutions and capacity building

These five pillars represent areas where Australia can advance human rights in practical, sensible ways that will have far-reaching systemic effects over time.  Areas where we are already leaders in promoting improvements, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.

Our term on the Council will also be guided by other core objectives: the abolition of the death penalty; equal human rights for LGBTI people; and freedom of religion and belief.  Australia has some of the most advanced laws in the world, including on intersex status.

As our recent membership of the UN Security Council demonstrated, we get things done. We acted as a bridge-builder and did not shy away from difficult issues.  We convinced the Council to discuss human rights in the DPRK for the first time.  We will bring this principled but practical approach to the HRC.  We will listen to the concerns of other member states, particularly our smaller regional neighbours in the Indo-Pacific.

Video: Australia's HRC membership

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that this film may contain images of deceased people. Additional footage supplied with thanks to: The Australian Department of Defence, the Department of Social Services, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the High Court of Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Pacific Sports Partnerships; and the Parliament of Australia.

Voluntary pledges

In accordance with resolution 60/251, Australia lodged its voluntary pledges and commitments [PDF 254 KB] with the United Nations General Assembly on 24 July 2017. The pledges are in line with Australia's five campaign pillars and adhere to our longstanding commitment to promote and protect human rights.

On 11 September 2017, ahead of the Human Rights Council elections in New York on 16 October 2017, we were pleased to attend the Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights pledging events in Geneva and New York. 

We presented our vision for Council membership, and responded to questions from other States and civil society on how we will realise the pledges and commitments made in support of our candidacy.

As demonstrated by our participation in the pledging events in New York and Geneva, we support civil society participation in international organisations, and our commitment to international scrutiny and accountability is unwavering.  That is why we have received five Special Rapporteur visits in the last year, and that is why we are ratifying OPCAT.

Australia will work towards advancing the rights of women and girls

Annette, an English teacher at Norsup Secondary School on Malekula Island, Vanuatu. Australia has supported Vanuatu's Education Road Map since 2009 to get more girls and boys into school for a longer, better education. Credit: Connor Ashleigh / DFAT.

Achieving gender equality is vital to economic development and to realising the full potential of women, men, girls and boys. Australia is strongly committed to working with the international community to advance the rights of women and girls across the world.

Internationally, we have placed gender equality and women's empowerment at the centre of our aid program. To deliver on this commitment, the Australian Government has decided that at least 80 per cent of its development investments must effectively address gender issues in their implementation.

We also invest in and advocate for:

  • ending violence against women and girls
  • women's economic empowerment
  • enhancing women's voices in decision making, leadership, and peace building

In the face of persistent challenges and slow progress, Australia is redoubling its efforts to achieve gender equality, both domestically and internationally. We have launched a new gender equality fund. We are promoting a stronger culture of respect, supporting the economic standing of women, and empowering women to have meaningful, high-level influence in their communities.

Our Ambassador for Women and Girls promotes the rights of women in multilateral, regional and bilateral fora, including by participating in the Commission on the Status of Women.

Australia believes it is vital to implement the women, peace and security agenda, working with other governments and civil society representatives from around the world to convert its objectives into effective action.

Australia commits to working collaboratively with other States to encourage equality before the law, reduce violence against women, and promote gender equality.

Our Pledge:

  • Australia will continue to support gender equality throughout our aid program.
  • Australia commits to working collaboratively with other States to encourage equality before the law, reduce violence against women, and promote gender equality.
  • Australia will take measures to eliminate gender-based discrimination and promote policies to increase womens' workforce participation.

Promoting good governance and stronger democratic institutions everywhere

A group of students from Pragati Adarsga English School in Nepal visits an interactive learning process at the Electoral Education and Information Centre. Credit: Jim Holmes / DFAT.

Good governance, the rule of law and strong institutions are the foundations of a functioning, responsive society — they are essential for promoting and protecting human rights.

Australia is supporting partner governments in our region to strengthen accountability measures, improve public sector financial management and deliver public sector reform. This enables our regional partners to deliver more efficient and effective services and protect the human rights of their citizens.

Australia will continue to invest in strengthening governance around the world with the aim of developing transparent, accountable and responsive institutions to ensure the advancement of human rights for all.

Australia will focus on helping build institutions that promote stability, inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, ensure disability inclusiveness, and strengthen gender equality and women's empowerment.

Our Pledge:

  • Australia will promote and uphold good governance and the rule of law around the world.
  • Australia will continue to promote good governance and strong democratic institutions in Australia, ensuring our public institutions are transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of Australians.
  • Australia will continue to support developing countries through our aid program to strengthen their public services and develop effective rule of law and justice agencies to ensure public safety and security.

Australia will promote and protect freedom of expression

Women from Timor-Leste participating in education and training courses to produce news stories at the Independent Centre for Journalism. Credit: DFAT.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of a vibrant democracy and a culture of accountability; it underpins good governance and stronger institutions. Australia's domestic and international policy initiatives place a heavy emphasis on protecting the core human right to freedom of expression.

Australia has played an active part in promoting Human Rights Council resolutions on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, human rights defenders, human rights and the internet, and civil society.

We are committed to ensuring individuals are able to enjoy the same human rights online as they enjoy offline. Australia became a member of the Freedom Online Coalition in March 2015.

Australia has supported the development of a strong, professional and sustainable media sector in partner countries in the Indo-Pacific region. This has resulted in stronger governance and stronger civil society and media sectors.

While we will highlight freedom of expression as a key political right, Australia will underline other important human rights. We will advocate the universal abolition of slavery and the death penalty. We are committed to supporting the rights of persons with disability, combating homophobic and transphobic attitudes by promoting equality for all, and addressing violence against women and girls.

Our Pledge:

  • Australia will underscore the fundamental importance of freedom of expression.
  • Australia will advocate for the protection of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society.
  • Australia commits to working with other countries to ensure that individuals are able to enjoy the same human rights online as they do enjoy offline, including freedom of expression.

Advancing human rights for indigenous peoples around the globe

Indigenous Australian diplomat Emily Hill speaks at the Wayne Quilliam indigenous photographic exhibition. Her Image, Her Voice, Her Story in Geneva. Credit: Pierre Michel Virot

Australia is committed to providing opportunities to assist indigenous peoples – both in Australia and overseas – to overcome social and economic disadvantage.

Australia plays an active role in the UN system on indigenous issues. In recognition of the importance of engagement by indigenous leaders in the UN, we are the fifth largest contributor to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Indigenous Populations.

Australia proudly supported the inaugural World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014, and welcomed the World Conference Outcome Document.

Under our new Indigenous Peoples Strategy, Australia will work in collaboration with our international partners, and with Australian Indigenous people, communities and businesses, to advance and promote the wellbeing of indigenous peoples around the world.

Australia is committed to holding a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Australian Constitution as Australia's First Peoples.

Our Pledge:

  • Australia will work towards a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution as Australia's First Peoples.
  • Australia will continue to give practical effect to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Outcome Document.
  • Australia is committed to strengthening the capacity of multilateral system to engage on issues affecting the world's indigenous peoples.
  • Australia is committed to harnessing the knowledge and expertise of Indigenous Australians in the design and delivery of our aid program.

Promoting strong national human rights institutions and capacity building

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda addresses the diplomatic corps and DFAT staff at the launch of DFAT's first comprehensive Indigenous Peoples Strategy. Canberra, 10 August 2015. Credit: DFAT

Independent national human rights institutions and a strong and robust civil society play a crucial role in preserving and advancing human rights. Australia is a strong advocate for strengthening the capacity of national human rights institutions to promote and protect human rights.

Australia continues to assist regional governments and civil society to establish and strengthen national institutions in compliance with the minimum criteria contained in the Paris Principles for National Human Rights Institutions. We also support engagement by national human rights institutions in the United Nations.

Through our aid program, Australia continues to invest in capacity building. We are committed to achieving sustainable development outcomes by building long-term partnerships with other donors, regional and multilateral organisations and partner governments.

In the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, Australia underlines the critical importance of building effective measures to provide early warning of mass human rights violations and abuses and appropriate preventive and accountability mechanisms.

Australia will continue to develop close partnerships with civil society in the design and delivery of our aid programs around the world.

Our Pledge:

  • As a Council member, Australia will work with other States to support the implementation of their international human rights obligations.
  • Australia will work to build capacity and strengthen national human rights institutions and civil society, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Australia will support the efforts of other States to increase awareness of human rights, address human rights violations and abuses, and hold those responsible to account.
  • Australia will continue to advocate in the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council and the General Assembly for measures which facilitate the early warning of potential mass human rights abuses and appropriate preventative and accountability measures.
Last Updated: 12 September 2017

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop delivers a National Statement at the SDG Summit Plenary in the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters in New York, Sunday September 27, 2015. Credit: Trevor Collens / DFAT.

"Australia will bring a principled and pragmatic approach to our term on the Human Rights Council."

— The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop, officially launches Australia’s candidacy to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term.