Australia and Human Rights

Australia believes that the protection and promotion of human rights is vital to global efforts to achieve lasting peace and security, and freedom and dignity for all. Australia’s commitment to human rights reflects our national values and is an underlying principle of Australia’s engagement with the international community.

How Australia engages

Australia engages on international human rights issues through multilateral forums, bilateral relationships and development assistance programs, including partnering with national human rights institutions (NHRIs).

Multilateral Engagement

Australia actively engages in international forums, particularly the UN human rights architecture. Australia uses these systems to promote international standards and progress common understandings of human rights.

UN Human Rights Council

Australia actively participates in Human Rights Council sessions to highlight cases of serious human rights concerns and to negotiate and adopt resolutions and statements that progress human rights implementation globally.

The Australian Mission to the United Nations in Geneva represents Australia's interests in the Human Rights Council. The Council was created in March 2006 to replace the former Commission on Human Rights as the United Nations' pre-eminent human rights body. Australia has been an active participant as a non-member of the Council at all sessions.

Australia has announced its candidacy for election to the Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term. This is the first time Australia has sought membership of the Council and reflects our strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Australia’s latest statements to the Human Rights Council are available at the Australian Mission's Statements page.

UN Universal Periodic Review

The Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every four to five years. Australia submitted a national report, declaring what actions it has taken to improve its human rights domestically.

Australia's National Report for Universal Periodic Review was lodged with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2010 and reviewed during the Tenth UPR Session in January 2011. Australia’s National Report, statements from the interactive dialogue before the Human Rights Council and Australia’s response to the UPR recommendations are available from the Attorney-General’s Department. Australia’s next Universal Periodic Review The next review is scheduled for 2015.

United Nations Social, Humanitarian, Cultural Affairs Committee (Third Committee), General Assembly

The Australian Mission to the United Nations in New York works to advance Australia's human rights priorities, primarily through the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. Third Committee meets annually and considers around 80 to 100 resolutions at each session. Australia actively engages in the Third Committee.

Further information on the UN Third Committee.

International Indigenous human rights issues

Australia is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples both domestically and internationally. DFAT works closely with the Department of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (PM&C), the lead agency on Australia’s Indigenous Affairs policies and programs, to represent Australia at the peak international fora dealing with international indigenous issues. This includes:

Australia strongly supported the inaugural World Conference on Indigenous People (WCIP) held on 22-23 September 2014. The Conference was the first UN high-level plenary meeting focusing exclusively on indigenous issues and adopted by consensus an outcome document in which all States committed to promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples around the globe. 

UN Human Rights Treaty Body Reporting

As a signatory to seven core international human rights treaties, Australia is required to regularly report on its domestic implementation of human rights treaty obligations.  Details of Australia’s submissions, including shadow reports provided by key stakeholders across civil society which are considered by respective Treaty committees, can be found on the OHCHR website.

Current status of Australia's reports on human rights
Treaty Last report lodged Next report due Last appearance before treaty committee
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 4th and 5th periodic reports lodged on 31 July 2013 TBA 3rd periodic report considered by the Committee Against Torture 29-30 April 2008 at its 40th session
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 5th periodic report lodged on 25 July 2007 2012 5th periodic report considered by the Human Rights Committee in March 2009 at its 95th session
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Combined 6th and 7th periodic reports lodged on 25 July 2007 July 2014 6th and 7th periodic reports considered by the CEDAW Committee in July 2010 at its 46th session
Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Combined 15th, 16th and 17th periodic reports lodged in December 2009 October 2014 for Combined 18th, 19th and 20th periodic reports 15th, 16th and 17th periodic reports considered by the CERD Committee in August 2010 at its 77th session
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 4th report lodged on 25 July 2007. July 2014 4th periodic report considered by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2009 at its 42nd session.
Convention on the Rights of Children 4th periodic report lodged in October 2008 January 2018 4th report considered by the CRC Committee in June 2012
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Initial report lodges on 3 December 2010 July 2018 Initial report considered on 3 and 4 September 2013

Bilateral Engagement

Bilateral Dialogues

Australia engages in bilateral dialogues with China, Vietnam and Laos. Through the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Government supports Human Rights Technical Cooperation Programs in China and Vietnam.

In 2012-13, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade conducted an Inquiry into Australia's Human Rights Dialogues with China and Vietnam. The Australian Government’s response to the inquiry was tabled on 20 June 2013.

Human Rights and Development Cooperation

The Australian Government recognises that protecting and promoting human rights is an important part of helping people overcome poverty. The Australian aid program supports the protection and promotion of human rights across all of its programs, for example by helping children access education, empowering women to participate in the economy, and building the institutional capacity of national human rights bodies.

Australia partners with key institutional partners to support capacity building activities that promote and protect human rights in the Indo Asia-Pacific region and globally.  These include partnerships with:

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) seeks to strengthen the institutional capacities of, and cooperation between, existing National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) within the Asia-Pacific region, and encourage and assist governments to establish regional national human rights institutions. Dialogue, cooperation and mutual support between national institutions is particularly important as a step in developing better mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in our region.

Since 2012, the Australian Government has provided over $3 million in core funding to enable the APF to:

Australian Government funding includes regular contributions to the APF to provide secretariat services to the Forum. Apart from information dissemination and exchange, the Secretariat also supports specific country technical cooperation projects, focusing on strengthening their human rights infrastructures.

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions website

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

OHCHR is the leading UN entity on human rights. It has a unique mandate provided by the UN General Assembly to promote and protect all human rights for all people.

Australia supports the work of OHCHR through annual contributions. Since 1999-2000, Australia has provided over $12 million in both core and earmarked support. In 2014-15, Australian provided $2.65 million to the Office.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website

The Australian Human Rights Commission

The Department engages the Australian Human Rights Commission through a number of international cooperation activities, including technical cooperation programs in China and Vietnam, and activities on SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex) issues.

In 2011, the Department provided $350,000 support to the Commission enable to establish  a secretariat to support its work as Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (Commonwealth Forum).  The Commission used its term as Chair to strategically engage the Commonwealth Forum on the issue of human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, and build the capacity of the Commonwealth Forum and its members to promote and protect the rights of LGBTI people. This included production of ‘SOGI’s Story’, an educational comic book and film, aimed addressing discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons. You can read more about this work here.

The Australian Human Rights Commission website

Publications, including treaty reports to United Nations bodies

DFAT Publications

Australia Treaty Reports to United Nations Bodies  

For more information on Australia’s treaty body reporting, and the concluding observations of UN Committees, please click here.

Human Rights Council

Publication

Australia: seeking human rights for all

See also: United Nations UDHR 60 website