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International Human Rights Day.

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Today marks the anniversary of one of the most important commitments ever made by the international community - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On this day 54 years ago, Governments around the world agreed that every human being should enjoy certain inalienable rights, regardless of gender, age, race, religious belief or political affiliation.

Australia was one of eight countries who drafted the Declaration and we remain strong supporters of the international human rights framework.

In the past five decades, Australia has served a total of 21 years on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Earlier this year, we were elected to serve a further three-year term from 1 January 2003. Membership will further boost our ability to influence the multilateral human rights agenda.

Our human rights credentials are widely recognised internationally and regionally and we are proud of our record of making a difference in their observance at grass-roots levels.

Our regional efforts include helping our neighbours construct human rights institutions as evidenced by Australia’s assistance to the Indonesian Human Rights Commission Komnas Ham and ongoing funding to the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.

We maintain the view that constructive cooperative dialogue is the best way to promote human rights bilaterally. Many other countries are now seeing the benefits of such dialogue - an approach pioneered by Australia - and are following our example.

I am pleased that Iran has joined China and Vietnam in holding bilateral dialogues with Australia on human rights. The inaugural round of our dialogue with Iran, which was held in Tehran on 8-9 December, marks a welcome development in our substantial and developing relationship.

The talks were very productive, reflecting the evident commitment of both sides to move the relationship forward, including in areas where we have differences. The atmosphere was positive and constructive.

Australian officials reaffirmed the importance of human rights in Australian foreign policy and emphasised the Government’s wish to discuss human rights matters with Iran in an open and constructive way. I do not believe that it is productive to lecture other countries about human rights. Rather we aim to work together to achieve practical outcomes which tangibly improve the lives of individuals.

The dialogue included discussions with a number of Iranian Government agencies and key political and religious figures directly responsible for matters relevant to human rights in Iran.

Media enquiries: Chris Kenny (Ministerial) 0419 206 890 Julie McDonald (Departmental) 02 6261 1555

Media releases and speeches are available from DFAT via the internet.