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[Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopts observations and recommendations on the reports of Australia and Estonia on how those countries implemented the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination]



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UNITED NATIONS Press Release

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24 March 2000 Morning

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning adopted its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Australia and Estonia on how those countries implemented the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Concerning the report of Australia, the Committee welcomed the high-ranking delegation sent by the country to present the report. It welcomed Australia's many public measures focusing on racial discrimination, including the launch of public awareness programmes on this issue. An area of concern for the Committee was the Native Title Act, as amended in 1998. It recommended that scrutiny continue to be given to any other proposed state and territory legislation to ensure that protection of the rights of indigenous peoples would not be reduced further. It also recommended that the State party increase its efforts to seek effective measures to address the socio-economic marginalization of aboriginals and end the discriminatory approach to law enforcement.

And on the report of Estonia, the Committee welcomed some of the legislative changes to protect human rights in the country. The Committee expressed concern that the provisions of restricted immigration established by legislation were applied discriminatory. It recommended that the quota system for immigration be applied without discrimination based on race, ethnic or national origin. The Committee also expressed concern on reports that the provision of instruction in minority languages would be reduced.

Other matters discussed by the Committee this morning included its decision to inform the General Assembly that it had agreed to hold its fifty-eighth session from 8 to 26 January 2001 in New York. The Committee cited concerns that smaller countries filing reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination often found it difficult to send delegations to Geneva.

The members of the Committee participating in the discussion today were Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr Michael Parker Banton, Marc Bossuyt, Brun-Otto Bryde, Ion Diaconu, Francois Lonseny Fall, Regis de Gouttes, Patricia Noyipho January-Bardill, Gay McDougall, Peter Nobel, Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai, Yuri Rechetov, Agha Shavi, Michael Sherifis, Luis Valencia Rodriguez, Mario Jorge Yutzis and Deci Zou.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. to discuss short notice agenda items.

Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Report of Australia

The Committee appreciated the attendance of a high-ranking delegation from Australia. Positive aspects in the report of Australia included the attention given by the State party to its obligations under the Convention and to the work of Australia's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Committee also noted the many measures adopted by the State party in the area of racial discrimination, including those adopted to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Committee welcomed the many public measures focusing on racial discrimination, including the launch of public awareness programmes on this issue.

Concerns raised by the Committee included that Australian law lacked any entrenched guarantee against racial discrimination that would override any subsequent law of the Commonwealth, states, and territories.

The Native Title Act, as amended in 1998, was an area of concern for the Committee. It recommended that scrutiny continue to be given to any other proposed state and territory legislation to ensure that protection of the rights of indigenous peoples would not be reduced further.

The role and participation of the indigenous people in decisions affecting their land rights was stressed by the Committee which noted that the Convention placed importance on ensuring the 'informed consent' of indigenous peoples.

Referring to reconciliation efforts, the Committee was concerned about the apparent loss of confidence by the indigenous community in the process of reconciliation. The Committee recommended that the State party take appropriate measures to ensure that the reconciliation process was conducted on the basis of robust engagement and effective leadership. Reconciliation, the Committee stated, should be genuinely embraced by both the indigenous population and the population at large.

The Committee noted with grave concern that the rate of incarceration of indigenous people was disproportionately high compared to the general population. Concern was also expressed that the provision of appropriate interpretation services was not always fully guaranteed to indigenous people in the criminal process. The Committee recommended that the State party increase its efforts to seek effective measures to address the socio-economic marginalization of aboriginals and end the discriminatory approach to law enforcement. The Committee also noted the lack of sufficient diversionary programmes for indigenous people.

Sentencing schemes in Western Australia and the Northern Territory appeared to target offences that were committed disproportionately by indigenous Australians, leading to a racially discriminatory impact on their rate of incarceration. The Committee seriously questioned the compatibility of these laws with the State party's obligations under the Convention and other international treaties on human rights. The Committee recommended that the State party review all laws and practices in this field.

Concluding Observations and Recommendations on the Report of Estonia

On the report of Estonia, the Committee welcomed the progress the State party had made in the area of legislative reform concerning human rights. In particular, the Committee noted the Convention had primacy over domestic legislation and might be directly invoked in courts. It also noted the existence of an important number of organizations promoting minority cultures.

The Committee expressed concern that the provisions of restricted immigration established by legislation were applied discriminatory. It recommended that the quota system for immigration be applied without discrimination based on race, ethnic or national origin. Concern was also expressed about reports that the provision of instruction in minority languages would be reduced.

Recommendations included that the State party provide further information on the work of the Legal Chancellor on ensuring the respect of the Convention, the existence of measures to combat organizations with a racist character and the effective penalties imposed in cases of eviction for acts of racism or racial discrimination.

Additionally, it was noted that the State party had not made the declaration provided for in article 14 of the Convention, and the Committee requested that the possibility of such a declaration be considered.

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