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Australia's embarrassing record on human rights.

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Senator Natasha Stott Despoja Australian Democrats Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs 7 May 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/288

Australia’s embarrassing record on human rights

A wide-ranging report released today highlights the Howard Government’s appalling record on human rights.

Australian Democrats’ Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, said the Australia Institute report, The New Anti-Internationalism: Australia and the United Nations Human Rights Treaty System, demonstrated a systematic undermining of human rights by the Government during John Howard’s Prime Ministership.

“At an international level and within its own borders, the Howard Government has displayed a consistent disregard for fundamental human rights,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“This year Australia holds the position of Vice-Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and has the opportunity to show leadership to the international community on human rights issues. So far, this opportunity has been missed.

“Australia was not among the group of nations identified by an international human rights organisation as holding a firm and principled line on key human rights issues during the recent annual session of the Commission.

“The Government’s double standards on human rights were highlighted most recently in its handling of the Iraq crisis.

“The Government argued loudly that Australia had to go to war against Iraq to ‘liberate’ its people from torture, but quietly refused to support the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

“The Government also voted against a proposal to hold a special sitting of the Commission to consider human rights and the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

“The extent of the Government’s hypocrisy is staggering,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“The Howard Government’s disregard for human rights at an international level reflects the very poor example it is setting within its own borders.

“Next week, the Parliament will once again debate the Government’s ASIO Bill which, if passed, will enable ASIO to detain and question any Australian, depriving them of their right to silence and limiting their right to legal advice.

“This Bill represents an unprecedented attack on the rights and liberties of all Australians and, when coupled with the Government’s plans to reduce the powers and independence of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, we see a very disturbing pattern emerging,” concluded Senator Stott Despoja.

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