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Working in the international arena to improve human rights - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Working in the international arena to improve human rights

We are often invited to share our knowledge and expertise with others in the region and around the world. For example, we engage in regular technical cooperation programs with China and Vietnam and currently support a number of disability organisations in Pacific Island countries.

As a founding member of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, we work in partnership with other national bodies to explore the pressing human rights issues facing our region.

We also have an important role to play at the United Nations. We monitor when Australia’s human rights performance is reviewed by UN human rights agencies and participate in proceedings where possible. We regularly provide independent reports that track how Australia is doing in meeting its human rights obligations and what improvements could be made. We keep a comprehensive record of the comments made by UN committees and mechanisms about the Australian Government on our website and we ensure that our work is informed by the observations and recommendations made by those UN agencies. We also provide opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to participate directly in the UN system.

Pacific Disability Project: building capacity of disabled people’s organisations and governments in the region

There is a strong association between disability and poverty in the Pacific, with women with disability being the most disadvantaged. People with disability are also often the most vulnerable and excluded members of developing countries.

Governments have long committed to addressing the disadvantage faced by people with disability through the Biwako Millennium Framework and Biwako Plus 5, and through signature and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

More recently, governments have done so through adoption of the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability 2010–2015, agreed to at the first Pacific Islands Forum Disability Ministerial Meeting in Rarotonga in October 2009.

The Commission, in partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum, is currently funded by AusAID’s Pacific Public Sector Linkages Program to progress disability issues in the Pacific by building the capacity and knowledge of Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and government representatives in the region.

The program consists of nine training activities, seven of which were delivered during the year in review at: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu Vanuatu. Training activities in Tonga and PNG will be completed in the 2010–11 reporting period. Each three-day training activity was delivered to 12 people with disability and a minimum of three government representatives.

This program is due to be completed in November 2010. The overall objective of this training activity is to improve the quality of life of people with disability living in the Pacific by promoting their rights of people with disability and building the capacity of DPOs and governments to respond to barriers that prevent people with disability from enjoying human rights.

China-Australian human rights technical cooperation program (HRTC) 2010–2011

The Commission has a strong and established track record of working on human rights in China. We have managed the China HRTC Program since 1998 and have achieved some concrete results. Over this time we have established relationships of trust and confidence with relevant Chinese agencies – relationships that are essential to the success of future rounds of the program.

The HRTC is an official program of bilateral cooperation between the Australian and Chinese governments. The program is funded by AusAID and managed by the Australian Human Rights Commission on behalf of the Australian Government.

The China HRTC Program operates under the China-Australia Human Rights Dialogue, the annual high-level discussion on human rights between the foreign ministries of the two governments. The HRTC complements the dialogue, giving practical substance to discussions at a more political level.

The goal of the HRTC Program is to strengthen the administration, promotion and protection of human rights in China in each of the three program theme areas: legal reform, women’s and children’s rights, and ethnic and minority rights. It implements around 20 activities during the course of the year. Each activity has specific objectives, against which outcomes and achievements are evaluated.

Activities completed in the reporting period were:

  • Scholarships for human rights studies at Australian universities – with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
  • Penitentiary Detention Study Visit to Australia – with Ministry of Public Security – Sept 2009
  • Judicial Accountability Seminar, Zhejiang Province – with Supreme People’s Court – Oct 2009
  • Workshop on Judicial Review of Administrative Decisions, Beijing – with National Judges’ College – Oct 2009
  • Model UN Conference, Beijing – with the United Nations Association of China – Nov 2009
  • Workers’ Rights Study Visit to Australia – with Beijing Legal Aid Organisation (BLAO) – Nov 2009
  • Workshop on Domestic Violence Legislation, Jiangsu Province – with the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) – Dec 2009
  • Anti-Poverty and Human Rights Study Visit to Australia – with the State Ethnic Affairs Commission – Dec 2009
  • Seminar on Charitable Foundations, Beijing – with Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) – Jan 2010
  • Seminar on Reporting on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Guilin, China – with MFA – Feb 2010
  • Human Rights Needs Assessment Survey, conducted in China – with National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) – completed Feb 2010
  • Family Planning and Human Rights Project Consultation, Beijing – with NPFPC – March 2010
  • Study Visit to Australia, on role of non-government organisations – with MCA – March 2010
  • Domestic Violence Training for Mediators and Jurors, Zhejiang Province – with ACWF – April 2010
  • Workers’ Rights Legal Aid Workshop, Beijing – with BLAO – June 2010
  • Seminar on Minor Criminal Offences, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province – with Ministry of Justice – June 2010.

The HRTC Program is directed principally at attitudes in China rather than Australia. As well as operating at a grass roots level, one of the main focuses of the program is to raise awareness and change attitudes to human rights through targeting government operatives responsible for policy development and program delivery.

The 2010–11 China HRTC Program is expected to include several activities dealing specifically with domestic violence experienced by women in China. While other activities in 2010–11 may not directly address violence, harassment and bullying, many will have indirect relevance to this subject area.

They include activities focused on treatment of detainees in correctional facilities, developing the role of non-government organisations, and procedures for citizens to make complaints about the actions of government officials.

Vietnam-Australia human rights technical cooperation program, early stage phase 3

The Vietnam HRTC is an official program of bilateral cooperation between the Australian and Vietnamese governments. The program is funded by AusAID and managed by the Commission on behalf of the Australian Government.

The goal of the HRTC program is to contribute to reduced poverty and sustainable development by assisting with the strengthening of the promotion and protection of human rights in Vietnam.

The activity gives key Vietnamese agencies the capacity to better protect and promote human rights. This is achieved via a series of small-scale cooperative activities in Vietnam and Australia including study visits, seminars, training workshops and development of publications. Each activity is a joint initiative between the Commission and one of the seven Vietnamese cooperating organisations: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Security, Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Prosecution Service, Vietnam Lawyers’ Association and Vietnam Women’s Union.

The chief impact is the transfer of knowledge and expertise to Vietnamese agencies and officials through a series of small-scale activities conducted in Vietnam and Australia. These include workshops, seminars, study visits, development of resource materials. In the long term, however, the impact will be major legislative and policy reform in Vietnam to strengthen, protect and promote human rights.

Once again, the HRTC Program is directed principally at attitudes in Vietnam, rather than Australia. Phase 3 started in Jan 2010 with planned topics concerning development of skills for conducting legal information and education programs, delivery of legal aid services to disadvantaged citizens, human rights protection in criminal prosecution procedures, and women’s rights and gender equality.

This phase includes a number of activities in cooperation with the Vietnam Women’s Union, in which violence against women will be among the key topics.

Phase 3 activities completed in the 2009–10 reporting period were:

  • Development of Women’s Rights Legal Bulletins – with Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) – July 2009
  • Development of Women’s Rights Legal Advocacy Materials – with VWU – July 2009
  • Human Rights Library Development – with MOFA – commenced late 2009 and is still in progress
  • Human Rights Treaties Seminar, Northwest Provinces – with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) – Jan 2010
  • Human Rights Treaties Seminar, Mekong Provinces – with MOFA – Feb 2010
  • Legal Dissemination Training for Socio-Political Organisations, Southern Region – with Ministry of Justice – March 2010
  • Legal Aid and Advocacy Study Visit – with Vietnam Lawyers’ Association – March 2010
  • Seminar on Human Rights Protection in Criminal Justice, Hanoi – with Supreme People’s Prosecution Service (SPP) – March 2010
  • Seminar on Human Rights Protection in Criminal Justice, Ho Chi Minh City – with SPP – March 2010
  • Women’s Legal Aid Study Visit to Australia – with VWU – April 2010
  • Technical Cooperation Identification Study Visit to Australia – with Ministry of Public Security – May 2010.

In Vietnam HRTC activities are aimed at building understanding and respect for rights among government officials and in the wider community. The activities provide training and capacity building for officials in key agencies to assist them to better protect and promote human rights. And some of the activities disseminate knowledge and experience to grassroots communities and the public. Examples include training for officials of the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice on skills for delivering education about legal rights.

In Australia HRTC also provides valuable experience for Australians working to build understanding and respect for human rights in the community. They gain new international perspectives to inform their own work on domestic human rights issues, and establish new contacts with whom they can network and exchange information.

Engaging in the UN system

The Australian Universal Periodic Review

Australia is scheduled to appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council in February 2011 under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism (or UPR). The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of every country on a periodic basis, presently four years.

The UPR provides two major opportunities for Australia: it allows the community and government to take stock of how well we are protecting the human rights of people in Australia, and permits the government to make commitments to the international community to that end.

In March 2010 the Commission and the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) co-hosted a forum in Sydney to discuss the UPR. It was attended by Human Rights Institutions from the Asia Pacific region, Australian federal government departments and non-government organisations who discussed, shared and learned about different approaches to government and shadow-reporting in the new UN UPR reporting system.

The Commission created a dedicated webpage with information about the UPR, giving people the capacity to provide feedback. A Commission UPR report was drafted and circulated to state and territory equal opportunity and anti-discrimination Commissions, children’s Commissioners, NGOs, major peak bodies across a range of areas and subscribers to the Commission’s list-serves. The report has now been provided to the United Nations. Over the next reporting period we will seek to help implement and monitor human rights recommendations made to the Australian Government by the UN.

Meanwhile the APF and the Commission were invited by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to facilitate a workshop in Vientiane, Laos, about engagement of civil society in implementing the outcomes of the UPR process (which applied to Laos this year).

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

We have been at the forefront of the efforts to reform the UN CSW to secure the independent participation rights of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). At the present time, CSW is the only human rights-based forum of the UN where NHRIs do not have the ability to participate as of right, independent of their national governments.

From 1–6 March 2010, Commissioner Broderick attended the 54th Session of the CSW at the United Nations in New York City. The Commissioner attended the session to support ongoing efforts to secure this outcome within the UN CSW and ensure that the Commission, Australia’s NHRI, was properly represented as part of that process.

The APF took a lead role in coordinating efforts and advocacy in this area, coordinating the participation of the largest number of NHRIs to the CSW in its 54-year history. In addition, the Australian Government once again agreed to have the issue of the independent participation rights of NHRIs at CSW as one of its priority areas in its negotiating framework.

The Commissioner was an active participant in the various strategies used to progress this reform agenda. The APF prepared a full report of the outcomes achieved by its participation, and that of the NHRIs, which was submitted to the meeting of the International Coordinating Committee on 25 March 2010.

The Joint Statement by NHRIs that participated at the 54th Session of the UN CSW, which raised their profile, was widely distributed to participants, including both government and NGO delegates.

The Commission was also represented in a range of events, sessions and meetings during CSW that promoted Australian initiatives regarding: gender equality, exchanges of best practice and effective strategies, and strengthening of government, NHRI and NGO stakeholder relationships.

Indigenous Peoples Organisations Network

We host and facilitate the preparation and attendance of the Indigenous Peoples Organisations Network at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).

No other formal structures or funding programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples exist to provide access to such forums. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are also overlooked by international voluntary funding programs because of Australia’s status as a developed nation.

Participation of Indigenous peoples at the UNPFII and the EMRIP has been supported by the Commission since ATSIC was abolished. We also play a lead role in facilitating joint contributions to the forums by the Australian Government, the IPO Network and the Social Justice Commissioner, and we facilitate networking opportunities with international experts including the Special Rapporteur.

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs entered a funding agreement with the Commission to administer funds to support the participation of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders at relevant international forums such as UNPFII and EMRIP.

In July 2009 we provided funds to four Indigenous organisations to assist with attendance costs for six Indigenous delegates to attend the second EMRIP. Indigenous organisations were funded on the basis of their expertise in relation to the areas for discussion. To provide additional support and technical expertise, Commission staff also attended.

In March 2010, after returning from the EMRIP, we coordinated and hosted the Indigenous People’s Organisations Network (IPO Network) meeting in Sydney. The purpose of this meeting was to review the forum’s outcomes and prepare for attendance at the UNPFII in New York in April 2010.

We provided funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates to attend this forum as well. For the ninth session, we provided financial support to six Indigenous organisations to assist with attendance costs for nine Indigenous delegates (some applicants applied as individuals).

In June, upon return from the UNPFII, we coordinated and hosted a further IPO Network meeting in Sydney, Its purpose was to review the forum’s outcomes and prepare for attendance at the EMRIP in Geneva from 12–16 July 2010.

As a result of the discussions about national and international engagement conducted in New York, the Commission co-hosted a Human Rights Workshop with the IPO Network in Sydney on 10 June 2010. Entitled ‘Decision Making by Indigenous Peoples’, it was attended by the IPO members and was open to the Indigenous community.

Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

The Commission was a founding member of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) which was established in 1996. Its secretariat was hosted by the Commission until the APF became a separate and incorporated entity in 2002.

Through the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and AusAID, the Australian Government has provided financial support for the APF since its establishment. The APF also receives contributions from its member institutions and grants from governments, the United Nations, foundations and other non-government organisations.

The APF is the leading regional human rights organisation in the Asia Pacific and supports the establishment and strengthening of independent human rights institutions in the region. The forum provides practical support to its members to assist them in their role of promoting, monitoring and protecting human rights. It also provides specialist advice to governments and civil society groups.

The APF currently has 17 member institutions drawn from all parts of the Asia Pacific.

The Commission’s term as the APF’s Deputy Chair concluded in August 2009. We attended the APF’s Fourteenth Annual Meeting in Amman, Jordan, from 3 to 6 August 2009.

We also co-hosted two workshops with the APF:

  • Implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture in Australia, 25 November 2009, Sydney
  • National human rights institutions and the Universal Periodic Review Process, 2–3 March 2010, Sydney.

We continue to strongly support the APF and have a Memorandum of Understanding with its secretariat which provides for accommodation and corporate services support.