UN Human Rights Council

  • Speech
25 February 2019

Thank you Mr President,Secretary-General, High Commissioner, Excellencies and distinguished delegates

As Australia was one of theeight nations to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was anoriginal signatory, it is with some pride that I take the podium just monthsafter the international community celebrated the Declaration's 70thanniversary.

The indivisibility, universalityand inalienability of human rights are principles that Australia hasconsistently championed – through the efforts of Australian Doc Evatt in thedrafting of the United Nations Charter during the San Francisco Conference, asan advocate for the Universal Declaration, and as a supporter of the creationof this august body in 2006.

Democracy, the rule of law,individual freedom and the right to all to dignity and respect – these valueshave guided Australians for generations. And these are the values which Australia has sought to promote as amember of the UN Human Rights Council.

Five fundamental principlesare guiding our advocacy on this Council:

  1. Gender equality;
  2. Freedom ofexpression and association, freedom of religion;
  3. Good governanceand robust democratic institutions;
  4. The rights ofIndigenous peoples, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderAustralians; and
  5. Strong nationalhuman rights institutions.

I will focus some of myremarks today on freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief. As a proud multicultural nation these tenetsare an inherent part of Australia's national identity.

We're a country in which onein four of us was born overseas – from all corners of the globe. According to our most recent national census,over 130 religious traditions are observed in Australia. This diversity brings richness and strengthbut it also brings challenges that require our l vigilance to ensure theindivisible and universal nature of the human rights of all Australians continueto be respected.

Religious freedom andtolerance are fundamental to open, multicultural and resilient societies. Sadly, however, in 2019, there is no regionglobally – nor any single religious tradition – that does not experience somedegree of religious intolerance or abuse. In different parts of the world, persecuted religious communities exist– communities following Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and a myriad ofbelief systems and religions.

We are deeply concerned bythis intolerance. We are disturbed bythe use of blasphemy laws to discriminate against religious belief or practice,targeting individuals and communities in order to settle personal scores andgrievances.

And we are alarmed byrestrictions – or worse – placed on populations based solely on their religiousadherence, where the rights of whole communities are infringed.

The right to freedom ofthought, conscience, belief and faith are not only inherent rights but rightswhich makes our societies richer, deeper and ultimately more compassionate.

As part of our longstandingcommitment to these inalienable rights, Australia will also maintain our focuson supporting the work of this Council in response to situations of humanrights concern as we have highlighted in our considered Universal PeriodicReview statements, informed and complemented by direct bilateral and regionalengagement with our friends and counterparts on these issues.

I want to reinforce that weare consistent and clear in our approach to these matters.

Sadly they are broad rangingbut to name a few of recent concern: we welcome the ultimate release of AsiaBibi, we note the challenges facing democracy in Venezuela, we note thecritical situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, we noteconcerns in relation to the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, and the murder ofJamal Khashoggi; we note the chilling restrictions placed on journalists andtherefore the erosion of the free press in multiple locations; the treatment ofUighurs in China, and the horrifichumanitarian toll of conflict in Yemen and Syria.

Mr President

Consistent with our view thata strong, accountable and credible United Nations contributes to peace,stability and dignity worldwide Australia will continue to work with all Statesto strengthen this Council

Part of these efforts must beto ensure a balanced agenda which considers the human rights challenges of allmember states. As has been ourlongstanding position since the inception of the Human Rights Council in 2006,for over 12 years, Australia opposes in principle the existence of Item 7 ofthe Agenda of the Council. It is ourfirm view that a separate agenda item focussing on a single country situation –in this case Israel – is inappropriate. It does not occur in any other context, for any other country.

Australia continues toadvocate for international efforts which enhance prospects for a two-statesolution where Israel and a future Palestinian state exist side-by-side inpeace within internationally recognised borders.

Another critical element ofensuring consideration of the full range of human rights challenges before usis the actual diversity of the membership of this Council.

We warmly welcome Fiji injoining the Council this year, the first ever Pacific Island member, and wewelcome the Republic of Marshall Islands' candidacy for 2020.

I want to acknowledge thepresence of Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, here today and hisremarks to the Council.

A voice from the Pacificregion is an important part of this Council's deliberations. One year in to our term we are pleased tohave been able to engage closely with our Pacific island neighbours to promotethe interests and concerns of our region.

We have brought focus on theparticular barriers faced by people with disabilities in the region and thevaluable work of the Pacific to increase women's participation in public life,especially those who live in rural and remote communities. During this session we are working with ourneighbours to highlight the important issue of modern slavery in the fishingindustry.

Mr President

We also believe thatrespecting fundamental human rights and freedoms, and building them into thefabric of society, makes Australia and the world safer and more secure.

We seek to maintain and buildon the rules and institutions that have provided the basis upon which universalhuman rights are protected and promoted.

Global abolition of the deathpenalty, ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and theprotection of the rights of LGBTI people, freedom of religion, advancingIndigenous peoples rights globally, championing the rights of people withdisabilities, promoting gender equality and supporting the role of civilsociety and national human rights institutions will continue to be prioritiesfor us for the remainder of our term and beyond.

I can assure you, MrPresident, that Australia's commitment to human rights goes to the core of whowe are as a nation and we look forward to advancing these values on thisCouncil in 2019.

I wish this Council all thebest for their deliberations this session.

Thank you.

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