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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 196

Mr Danby asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 21 March 2007:

(1)   Is the Government aware that the US has criticised the UN Human Rights Council for an anti-Israel bias, and for the second consecutive year has decided not to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

(2)   Is the Government also aware that a US spokesman has said that the UN Human Rights Council has had a “singular focus” on Israel, while countries such as Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea have been spared scrutiny; if so, has the Government attempted to raise this issue with the UN; if not, why not.

Mr Downer (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   Australia is aware that a US spokesman, Sean McCormack, said on March 6 this year that the UN Human Rights Council has had a “nearly singular focus on issues related to Israel”, to the exclusion of focusing on country situations in Cuba, Burma and North Korea. Australia has expressed its view to the UN General Assembly and to the Council itself, that the Council, in accordance with its mandate, must be able to address human rights violations, work towards their prevention and respond promptly to human rights emergencies. We specifically raised this view with the UN Human Rights Council on 23 March, when we participated in the related debate on country rapporteurs. We emphasised that the Council must be apprised of situations as they emerge, and that country-specific mandates were important for bringing to the Council’s attention the human rights situations in countries such as Burma and North Korea. We have also raised our concerns with the UN about the human rights situation in Cuba, most recently at the UN General Assembly in November 2006. During Council sessions, we have also routinely raised issues of concern, including human rights abuses in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Fiji, with a view to assisting the Council focus on situations across the world.